By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There’s a magical appeal to the tale of the underdog, who rises to capture a moment in an athletic competition that people just didn’t foresee.
Yeah, well, if you’re talking about a volleyball championship match and the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers are involved, forget it. Save your money to bet on the Washington Generals in their next game with the Globetrotters. It’s been 11 years since anybody around here made that volleyball dream come true.
When an outcome is as expected as was the Panthers’ straight-sets victory over the Kingston Blues in the Kingston Area senior boys high school final Sunday afternoon, what is anyone left with? Simply this—the privilege of witnessing greatness; precision perfectly juxtaposed with power, agility blended seamlessly with guile.
Years from now, when people marvel at the volleyball wizards of the day, those who were around to see the Panthers of this era will interrupt: “Yeah,” they’ll say. “Sure, that's a great team—but you never saw Regi.”
Here’s the thing: You almost don’t even notice.
The 25-17, 25-14, 25-17 victory was utterly methodical. There was no spark from a singularly terrific play, there were no errors to fix. There can be no so-called turning points in a match where the winning performance is delivered so efficiently, at a pace a lay person might be tempted to describe as plodding, but for the sheer athleticism from which it arises. It’s just that when you see it all the time, point in and point out, even as good as it is, you somehow come to take it for granted.
On this day in the main gym of the Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre, there were no long faces among the vanquished Blues, some of whom have now succumbed to Regi in a county final three years in a row.
“Every time you get to play Regi, it’s always an adventure,” Blues coach Huw Davies said.
“For some of these kids, it’s getting to be too much of an adventure.”
There’s a certain grace to the way the Panthers go about their business that isn’t always prevalent in a sport where opponents are physically separated by a net, finesse often bows to intimidation and points are scored by figuratively driving the ball down the other guy’s throat.
It’s an even keel that has steered the good ship Regi through the emotional water of a dynamic game.
“We wanted to play solid and just lean on them,” Panthers coach Mark McKenna said of the plan for Sunday’s match. “Don’t get caught up in runs, don’t try to do too much and give away points—just be solid. Be steady.
“We were more physical; we are stronger. They’re very skilled but they’re not as physical as some of our guys are.”
Which manifests itself, McKenna said, in the kind of things his team is able to do.
“We can play power and put teams in some difficult situations with the speed that we play at,” he said. “We see it in practice all the time, so we’re used to the speed involved.”
The Panthers, now bound for Windsor to defend their Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA title, have what Davies described as “an aura” about them.
“We always get nervous when we play Regi,” he said. “We never get nervous when we play anybody else. Regi has that, but I think they have that over every team.
“It would have been nice to challenge them a bit more,” Davies continued, “but they are the best team in the province.”
McKenna spoke of his team’s consistency Sunday. “We didn’t have a lot of passing breakdowns,” he said.
“First contact is really important to us. If we can get the ball to (setter Tom McCabe) we want to get it to two and a half, which is at the net, and we want to run all three options. We’re very good when we can do that.
“When we’ve struggled this year, we’ve had to pull our setter off. When the passing isn’t there, you’re one dimensional, predictable. We were much better (today) at letting our setter run the offence.”
As they were in the semifinal victory over Holy Cross on Thursday—a 3-1 triumph where the Crusaders became the only KASSAA team this year to take a set from Regi—left-side hitters Andrew Borschneck and Liam Huntley were the key weapons in that offence.
For the Blues, who stand as the top AA team in the county, there’s a tournament beginning Thursday in Brockville to determine the Eastern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association champion. KC, which recently defeated defending eastern Ontario champion L’Escale of Rockland in a tournament, will be one of the top-seeded teams there.
“It’s now a question of regrouping, getting our heads back in the tournament and going on,” Davies said. “That’s been our plan all along, to qualify for EOSSAA, and we did that. This was a stepping stone to EOSSAA, and we’ll see. We may have given away a little bit (today) so we’ll have to come back hard Tuesday and Wednesday at practice, get them back into the game.”
The prize from winning the tournament in Brockville is a spot in the OFSAA AA championship, two weekends from now in Kenora.