The Little Flower Academy Angels handed the defending AAA senior girls volleyball champions from Seaquam one of their first losses in two years Saturday night to win the 2012 title at home in front of 250 spectators.
Coming back to win a clutch second set to tie the game 1-1, the Angels didn't lose again and rode their confidence to break the Seaquam Seahawks from North Delta in four sets, 24-26, 29-27, 25-18, 25-16.
"They did everything they needed to do to get this championship," said Angels coach Ross Ballard.
"I couldn't be more proud of what they did on the floor. It's not winning that I'm proud of, it's the way they did it - how hard they worked as a team and how they adjusted. We had a special group of athletes and they played an incredible level of volleyball."
Competing in the final was a win in itself for the Angels. "This is gravy," Ballard said during the pregame warm up as the gym filled with supporters for both sides, including a Seahawks mascot and an Angels team manager in a maroon and white unitard, tutu and halo.
Up against a team that had not lost to a AAA opponent in two years, including at the championship bout one year ago, the Angels were in tough against the Seahawks, according to Ballard. "They don't make any mistakes," he said about Seaquam.
But it was the Angels who played a near flawless game, right down to the final points won from Kristiann Man's soft-lob bombs from the service line and Nini Breukels' crosscourt kill for the championship point. "My girls played a complete game," said Ballard.
The Angels led twice in the first set and looked to take an early lead in the game, but the Seahawks went on a four-point tear to tie the set at 24 apiece and then win 26-24.
Anchored by middle-blocker Nicola Laniuk, a six-foot-three presence at net, Seaquam stifled the Angels attack up the centre and forced the host team to shift their hitting to the outside. The adjustment was key. The Angels neutralized Laniuk and swung momentum in their favour.
The second set was even closer than the first. The lead exchanged hands six times and no team gained more than a three-point edge until the Angels went up 23-20.
Seaquam countered, finding points despite the strong blocking of Little Flower's Sarina Trasolini, Tehlana Durty-Wingson, Man and Breukels.
Tied at 25, the Seahawks took a one-point lead. A two-point advantage would have secured a win. Trasolini and Breukels stuffed Seaquam's powerful outside hitter Dayna Reynolds to break the Seahawk's advantage and then Trasolini was back at the net for a kill to win the Angels their second advantage of the set.
The lead would change twice more. Up 28-27, Durty-Wingson dug up a blistering spike, powering a quick attack that caught the Seahawks unprepared. Winning the marathon second set, Little Flower tied the game 1-1.
The confidence of the Angels ignited and they blazed through the third set 25-18. Man led all players with 19 kills, including four in the second set.
Little Flower jumped to a 7-3 lead in the fourth set. Jessica Drew was unconscious in the back row, making clean, controlled passes off a slew of power shots erupting from across the net. When Breukels and Francesca Pietrantonio blocked the much-taller Laniuk to give the Angels a 21-15 lead, the home crowd became restless.
From the line, Man dropped precise, stealthy serves just inches over the Seaquam net that sent the Seahawks defense into chaos.
"Throwing in a bunch of short serves would really get them off their game," said Man, after the Angels collapsed into a dog pile at centre court. "They're not anticipating it."
Those unexpected serves put the Angels on a six-point run. Breukels scored the winning point on an outside hit she sent straight to the floor.