The William Mercer Academy Mustangs of Dover survived two New World Island Academy Prowlers' championship points to earn gold in the Tier 2 Division of the 10th annual PJ Sports Junior High Girls Volleyball Invitational Tournament.
Held Jan. 21 in Gander, the Mustangs were involved in a neck-and-neck battle with the Prowlers in the final, but somehow found a way to overcome fatigue and drama to win the team's second gold medal of the volleyball season by scores of 25-20, 14-25, 16-14.
Head coach Sherry Drover's voice was extremely hoarse following the three-set classic, but she had no trouble praising her team and the work effort they brought to the annual junior event.
"It was very exciting and very nerve-wracking at the same time," said Drover of the final. "We had to play three-straight matches to get to the final and we had to play three sets in each of those three matches. To get down to the third-and-final set of the championship match, it was pretty nerve-wracking."
The Mustangs' road to the final had more twists and turns than a F1 racetrack. First, the girls survived a three-set quarterfinal match against Greenwood Academy of Campbellton 25-13, 21-25, 15-10 to advance to the semifinal against the Glovertown Academy Eagles.
Not only did the girls survive yet another three-set nail-biter, 25-12, 21-25, 15-8, but they also had to overcome a scary incident involving player Taylor Keats.
During the second set against the Eagles, Keats was standing next to Mackenzie Dawe during an Eagles' serve. Dawe got into position to pass the ball to her setter, but the volleyball ricocheted off her arm and into the face of Keats, who had no time to react. Thankfully, Keats was okay, and returned to the court shortly after.
From there, the girls went into the championship match against the Prowlers, and about an hour later, went home with their first-place plaque.
"It was amazing," said Amy Collins. "I was hoping everybody was going to do well in that gold-medal match, and I really couldn't wait to win it."
"I'm really excited about this, and I feel really proud to win another gold medal," said Ashley Payne. "I got to play with my favourite girls, and we got to achieve this as a team and have fun at the same time."
The Mustangs finished first in its division following round-robin action, defeating the Gill Memorial Vikings of Musgrave Harbour and the Prowlers 25-10, 25-12 and 25-14, 25-19 respectively.
The playoffs proved to be much tougher, but the Mustangs prevailed. Payne credited the coaches for teaching them the skills needed to overcome tough competition, and in turn, Drover credited the players for their dedication to the sport.
"They're a very dedicated group. We practice twice a week, and we have two coaches (Drover and Adam Howse), so they get direction from both of us," said Drover. "We're able to pick up on key areas that they need improvement in, and we work on those things individually. The girls absolutely love this sport, they work hard, and I'm so glad they got this today."
"We worked as a team, and we were able to use the skills our coaches have been teaching us all year long," said Payne. "We really pulled together to win this gold medal."
The Mustangs come from a small school, one of the smallest schools that competed in Saturday's Tier 2 tournament.
Drover said the school will no doubt be proud of what her girls were able to achieve, and if the weather was better the day before, the school could have come home with two championship plaques.
"Unfortunately, our boys' team had to pull out of Friday's (junior high boys') tournament because of the weather. We are a small school, and we don't have a large number of students to draw upon, but we always have a number of students who are very active in the school," said Drover. "These girls here represented the school really well and we're very proud of them."
Junior Girls Tier 2 PJ Sports Results
St. Paul's JV 8s 12, 10 Lakewood Academy 25, 25
Glovertown Academy 25, 25 St. Paul's JV 7s 4, 11
Greenwood Academy 25, 25 Lewisporte Collegiate 7s 10, 12
William Mercer Academy 25, 25 Gill Memorial 10, 12
St. Paul's JV 8s 25, 14 Exploits Valley Intermediate 7s 14, 25
Lewisporte Collegiate 8s 25, 25 St. Paul's JV 7s 2, 11
Phoenix Academy Raiders 25, 25 Lewisporte Collegiate 7s 21, 11
New World Island Academy 25, 25 Gill Memorial 7, 17
Lakewood Academy 25, 25 Exploits Valley Intermediate 7s 18, 19
Glovertown Academy 13, 23 Lewisporte Collegiate 8s 25, 25
Phoenix Academy 25, 22 Greenwood Academy 20, 25
New World Island 14, 19 William Mercer Academy 25, 25
St. Paul's JV 8s 19, 25, 15 St. Paul's JV 7s 25, 4, 0
Lewisporte Collegiate 7s 25, 25 Gill Memorial Academy 7, 18
Quarter Final 1 Glovertown Academy 13, 25, 15 Lakewood Academy 25, 19, 5
Quarterfinal 2 Lewisporte Collegiate 8s 25, 20, 15 Exploits Valley Intermediate 7s 15, 25, 7
Quarterfinal 3 William Mercer Academy 25, 21, 15 Greenwood Academy 13, 25, 10
Quarterfinal 4 New World Island Academy 26, 25 Phoenix Academy 24, 14
Semifinal 1William Mercer Academy 25, 21, 15 Glovertown Academy 12, 25, 8
Semifinal 2 New World Island Academy 25, 25 Lewisporte Collegiate 8s 17, 16
Final William Mercer Academy 25, 14, 16 New World Island Academy 20, 25, 14