Win over Corner Brook Titans at 18U Provincials
© Submitted photo
The girls of the Island Central Flying Tigers A team display their gold medals with a smile after winning the 18U NLVA volleyball provincials against the 18U Corner Brook Titans this past weekend.
Dave Jewer has been involved with volleyball in Grand Falls-Windsor for almost two decades - suffice it to say he's seen a lot of great matches.
But he said the championship game this weekend at the U18 female provincials in Corner Brook between the Corner Brook U18 Titans and the Island Central Flying Tigers A team was among the best.
"That championship game was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen," said Jewer, who coaches the Flying Tigers.
The Flying Tigers is not a team associated with a school, but one of several teams in the Central region that takes in the top players around. Jewer's Tigers are all from the Exploits region. Because they are a club team, the girls of the Flying Tigers are limited to playing in Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association (NLVA) provincial tournaments, most of which take place in February, but the independent nature of the team allows the girls more travel and practice opportunities than a school team would.
Despite several semi-charmed NLVA tournaments so far this season - they placed fourth in the U17 provincials last month - the Flying Tigers managed to pick up a player to qualify them for the U18 provincials held this past weekend in Corner Brook. The team dominated the court during the second half of the tournament and took the gold medal in an emotional gold medal game with the four-time provincial champ Titans.
Although they managed to come out on top, Jewer said the tournament started off with a rough patch for the girls.
"On Friday we had a shaky start," said Jewer. "Our first match was against a not-so-strong team from Port aux Basques and we only won that one in the third set."
Their next game was against the Leo Burke Lightning out of Bishop's Falls. It went to three sets, and ended up in a win for the Lightning.
"After our shaky start, we managed to refocus on Saturday," said Jewer. "We learned a lot about our defensive movement and our positioning. Our power players were struggling a bit on Friday because we weren't closing our block well enough and that caught us off guard."
Lucky for the Flying Tigers, they had time to look at their errors on Friday night and come up with a game plan for the remaining two round robin games on Saturday.
Their first game on Saturday was against the 16U Corner Brook Titans, and the Tigers bagged it in two quick sets.
Next, the girls had to go up against the 18U Titans.
"These girls were the high school 4A champs for the past four years, and they haven't lost an 18U provincials in, I'd say probably four years," said Jewer. "This tournament lost some teams because of weather but all that mattered to us was that Corner Brook were there. If we got to play them, it was a tournament worth going to."
In the final match of round robin, the Flying Tigers girls were defeated by the Titans, but in a good three-set game. Despite the loss, Jewer said the game only added to their confidence.
"Corner Brook is obviously a very strong school, they've got a great program, so after that game, we knew we could hang with anybody," said Jewer.
With two wins and two losses, the Island Central Flying Tigers were in the semifinals, and up against Leo Burke Academy, who had defeated the Tigers in round robin. This time, Jewer said they went in with a game plan that his team executed beautifully.
"We gave them trouble running a balanced offence with a lot of tough serving at specific targets... and we focused on shutting down their two big hitters," said Jewer.
Their strategy proved to be a good one, and the Flying Tigers took out the Lightning in two straight sets.
The win meant the Tigers had made it to the finals, and were up against the U18 Titans for the second time in the tournament.
"We came on fire, our enthusiasm and confidence and our intensity went up with every game we played on Saturday," said Jewer.
The Island Central Flying Tigers were ready.
"Corner Brook runs a faster offence than anyone else in the province, so we had to pick up our blocking a lot more. We changed our defence." Jewer said.
Despite their best efforts, the Tigers dropped their first set to the Titans. But according to Jewer, halfway through the second set something amazing happened. The Island Central Flying Tigers B team, a group mostly based out of Lewisporte that were competing in another division the same weekend, walked into the gym.
"They started chanting I-C-F-T, and the girls lit right up. Right then and there Emily King and Drew Pardy went crazy at the net, and shut down two of the best hitters in the province on Corner Brook's team with some incredible blocking. If they didn't block it all together they slowed it down and our defence got it up," said Jewer. "We just hit everything right back at them. The girls had complete faith in each other, and they went right mad."
The Tigers shut down the Titans to win the gold medal in three close and emotional sets. The scores were 25-19, 17-2, and 15-13.
Despite losing their several year long win-streak, Jewer said there was no hard feelings between the Titans and the new provincial champs.
"I stayed at the house of the coach from Corner Brook that weekend, and he told me that night it was the best match their team had played in four years," said Jewer. "After the game, parents from Corner Brook were coming over to congratulate our team and say how well the girls played. It was great sportsmanship between the two teams."
Besides winning the provincial title, three players on the Flying Tigers were recognized for their great showing at the tournament.
D'onna Jewer and Emily King both received all-star awards, and Drew Pardy was awarded the tournament MVP.
The next big thing the Island Central Flying Tigers will be focusing on are nationals at the end of May, and Jewer said they will be practicing hard for that.
But for now, the girls are ecstatic about the great tournament.
"Even though we came home with the gold and the banner, I don't think anyone lost," said Jewer. "It was really something special."