CHARLOTTETOWN – It's been a long wait, but the Grant Thornton P.E.I. School Athletic Association Senior A Girls Volleyball League championship banner is returning to Kinkora Regional High School for the first time in 27 years.
The Blazers won the 2018 title in dramatic fashion on Saturday, winning two matches that had fans on the edge of their seats.
“It’s a relief (to win the championship),” said Blazers’ Grade 10 middle player Faith Reeves, who was named the provincial championship’s most valuable player. “The last time Kinkora won was in ’91.”
The one-day tournament capped a season of progression that the Blazers will remember for a long time.
“At the beginning of the season we knew we were going to be a good team, but if someone would have said we would win a championship, I would have been like, ‘OK, we’ll see how the season goes,’” said Kinkora setter Brooke McCardle. “As the season went along, everyone tried their hardest at practice, we pushed each other, became really close and throughout the year we just got better and better.”
Kinkora, which completed regular-season play in the West Division a 9-1 (won-lost), upset the host and top-seeded Charlottetown Rural Raiders in a five-set semifinal. Rural entered the provincials undefeated in league play at 10-0 in the East Division.
“We were the first team to beat them all season (in league play), that was pretty exciting,” added Reeves.
It wasn’t easy, however.
“We never gave up,” said McCardle, describing the team's identity. “Kinkora is known for not giving up when we are down.
“We kept playing, and I’m proud of all the girls for putting in everything they had.”
The Blazers trailed the Raiders 1-0 and 2-1, after the teams exchanged 25-23 wins in the first three sets. Kinkora won the fourth set 25-21 to set up a thrilling fifth set that finished 16-14.
“Our girls fought hard and came back in every set,” said Blazers head coach Evan Killorn. “Everybody persevered through, and it showed in the way they played that they wanted it that much. I’m really proud of them.”
The gold-medal match featured the Blazers taking on the defending-champion Francois Buote Jaguars of Charlottetown. Francois Buote, which defeated Rural in the 2017 final in Kinkora, advanced with a hard-fought 3-1 semifinal win over Evangeline. Scores were 25-23, 9-25, 27-25, 25-17.
Kinkora overcame a slow start against Francois Buote to win in four sets – 25-23, 27-25, 22-25, 25-17.
“It was a little bit slower start, but once the girls found a rhythm they started to get their energy back and could feel the momentum swinging their way as the game progressed,” said Killorn, who added the Blazers entered the final “a little bit emotionally drained” from the semifinal match.
“We didn’t have a very good warm-up (for the final),” she added. “I think that had something to do with us not starting off the game very strong, but once we got up and realized we were in the championship game of the provincials, we knew we had to give-er your all!”
Killorn agreed the second set proved to be the turning point against Francois Buote as the Blazers rallied from a 15-5 deficit to go up 2-0.
“They came back in the second set that they won, and it just showed their drive and grittiness to never give up,” said Killorn. “One thing I would say is that the girls I’ve coached, not just this year but over the last couple of years, they are never going to give up no matter how far down they are.”
When asked to summarize the keys to the Blazers’ success, Reeves answered: “Picking some open spots where they were not, making smart plays and swinging high and hard all the time. Our serving had to be good, too.”
Killorn described Reeves as “the backbone” of the Blazers’ defence and passing.
“She’s a great passer, a great defensive player,” he said. “She really kind of glues the team together in terms of making sure we are ready to go for every point.”
The Blazers’ Shaelynn McCardle, a Grade 10 setter, was selected a provincial championship tournament all-star.
“She probably was our best server all year,” said Killorn. “She has a competitiveness that is so high she can’t stand to lose. She is in the gym every day, before and after practice, wanting to get better.”
Killorn was especially pleased the Blazers’ Grade 12s – Booke McCardle, middle blocker Rebecca Green and power Maddy Moffatt – had the opportunity to win a championship in their final year.
“They have been starting since Grade 10, so they have put in a lot of time over a few years,” said Killorn, who acknowledged all three seniors played key roles in the provincials.
While Killorn was thrilled for his players, they were equally happy to win the championship for their coach.
“Us, as a team, the Grade 12s especially, wanted to do it for him,” said Brooke McCardle. “He deserves a win since he puts so much time and effort into us.”
Evangeline defeated Charlottetown Rural, which had played four straight hours, in the bronze-medal match 3-0 (25-21, 26-24, 25-8).
PEISAA Int. A Volleyball League championship all-stars:
Shaelynn McCardle, Kinkora.
Katelyn Milligan, Evangeline.
Jessica Turbide, Francois Buote.
Shannon Longergan, Francois Buote.
Selena Mahajer, Charlottetown Rural.