Senior Gaels, junior Lions hoist championship plaques
GUELPH – Neither the Guelph CVI Green Gaels nor St. James Lions could build a lasting relationship with momentum until it really mattered in the District 10 high school senior girls’ volleyball championship match Tuesday night at the Guelph Gryphons Athletics Centre.
After both squads had flings with momentum during the first four sets of the match, the Gaels embraced it in the fifth and final match to keep their hold on the title.
The Gaels won the final 25-14, 13-25, 16-25, 26-24, 15-7 for their fourth consecutive championship win. That title-winning run is stretched out over six years as COVID-19 took away the D10 finals in both 2021 and 2022.
“We were down. Our first game was unbelievable and then they shut us down and we couldn’t get it back,” GCVI coach Leann Reynolds said of the momentum in the match. “That’s volleyball, right? You chip away, chip away and you sneak one out in the fourth and we had the momentum.”
With momentum being a fickle friend turning the final into a marathon match, to get the victory felt that much better.
“It felt so amazing, so deserved as well,” said GCVI’s Celia Harvie, their player of the match. “Everyone played so well.”
“It’s really nice,” Reynolds said. “I think these girls lost in the finals when they were juniors and it’s really nice for me because I retire in June so it’s a great way to leave.”
Pressure ramps up for all in the match when momentum is hard to get and keep in a back-and-forth contest.
“It’s a little tough, but I know the team has a really good dynamic and we’re able to persevere through and win in the end,” Harvie said.
“My starters were struggling a little bit,” Reynolds said. “One would be playing well and another wouldn’t be playing well. We weren’t playing all well at the same time and they stayed with it, they dug deep and pulled out the win.”
That the match was a tight affair shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. St. James had finished first at 13-1 while the Gaels were second at 12-2. They’d also split their two regular-season matches, each winning 3-1 on the other team’s home court. Both had also swept their playoff matches to gain their berths in the final, St. James taking their delayed semifinal 3-0 over the Ross Royals earlier in the day while the Gaels had disposed of the Centennial Spartans in their semifinal six days earlier.
“It’s been really good, the team’s been really, really strong,” Harvie said of GCVI’s season. “What made is play well was how cohesive we were as a team. As individual players, we really got along well together.”
“They’re a good volleyball team,” Reynolds said. “They’re strong. They’re all rep players and we’ve got strong servers and they’re always a threat.”
Harvie was also quick to give her coach credit for the title win.
“I think honestly it has to do with Ms. Reynolds and how good and talented a coach she is,” Harvie said. “She really understands the sports and really understands how to coach women’s volleyball.”
Both teams advance to CWOSSA tournaments at Waterloo that were originally scheduled to start Thursday, but were postponed due to Thursday’s inclement weather. The Gaels are to compete in the AAA tournament at RIM Park Friday and Monday while the Lions are to compete in the AA tournament at St. David Catholic Secondary School Monday.
“I don’t know anything,” Harvie said of the CWOSSA tournament. “I’ve never been, but I’m looking forward to it and I hope it goes really well.”
The win in Tuesday’s senior final prevented a sweep of the D10 girls’ volleyball titles by St. James.
Sienna Good was the player of the senior match for St. James.
Junior Girls’ Volleyball
After dropping the first set of the D10 final, the St. James Lions rallied to capture the crown with a 20-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-10 triumph over the Ross Royals.
“We couldn’t be more proud of the girls,” St. James coach Natassja Woodard said. “They played the best volleyball we’ve ever seen them play. They played with heart, which was really important. We cannot be more proud of the team.”
The Royals had finished the regular season first at 13-1 while St. James was second at 12-2. The two losses by the Lions were both to the Royals as Ross took the season opener 3-1 at St. James Nov. 29 and also won 3-1 on their own court Dec. 22.
Those results left the Lions feeling a little tentative heading into the championship match.
“We lost both games to them in four sets so our girls were a bit nervous, but we told them to play with heart and play the best volleyball that they can and that it came down to this one last game,” Woodard said. “They showed it and Ross played an unbelievable match against us as well and they proved that they were ready to fight as well. It was an awesome game all around.”
“It feels amazing,” St. James captain Madison Bermejo said of the title win. “I went in here, I’m not going to lie, with a loser mindset and I came out with a winner mindset. It’s amazing.”
The Lions also decided that the playoffs meant a chance to reset.
“Our season was awesome,” Woodard said. “We finished second in the regular season and honestly we got to the playoffs and we said the regular season didn’t matter, we had to focus on one game at a time. The girls really focused on just winning one thing at a time and they proved they’re a team that plays good volleyball.”
Despite dropping the first set of the final, the Lions kept their composure and didn’t get overly concerned about that early setback.
“There’s always another chance,” Bermejo said.
“No because every set we come back to 0-0 every time and we knew our girls come out of a loss and focus on winning one point at a time,” Woodard said.
Players of the match were Arielle Balmelero of St. James and Cassie Frost of Ross.
The Lions were in control from early on in two of the three sets they won. They had run to a 13-4 lead early in the second set and scored the first 10 points of the fourth set.
Ross had led the first set early before the Lions cut that lead to two, but the Royals scored eight of the set’s final 13 points for the win.
The third set was a back-and-forth affair throughout.
The D10 championship win was the first for St. James in junior girls’ volleyball since 2015 when they won it for the third time in four years.
As was the case in senior, both championship match participants had swept their previous playoff matches with one winning earlier in the day. This time it was Ross that had to play twice Tuesday while St. James had won its semifinal six days earlier.
Both the Lions and Royals move on to CWOSSA championship tournaments at Waterloo, Ross in AAA at RIM Park Friday and Monday and St. James at St. David Catholic Secondary School Friday.
- Guelph Sports Journal