By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There was a very pragmatic reason why the Sydenham Golden Eagles declared themselves a triple-A team for purposes of girls volleyball playoffs beyond the Kingston area. Last year, the trip to the double-A OFSAA tournament in Dryden almost broke the bank, and this year’s event is in far-off Kenora.
That wasn’t the only consideration, though, coach Katie May explained. Competitively, there were two perennially strong schools in the way of returning to the provincial championship at either level, Regiopolis Notre Dame at the AAA level, or Casselman in AA division.
“We weren’t going to split hairs on the easiest way to get there,” she said. “We wanted it to come down to winning KASSAA.
“We didn’t want to (get here) and think, ‘Well, even if we lose, we’re still going to EOSSAA.’ It was, ‘Let’s focus on getting to the KASSAA final and see (what happens).’
“A lot of these girls have seen Regi in the finals throughout their high school careers and haven’t won.”
That’s what made winning the title Sunday night at the Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre that much more special, as Sydenham defeated Regi in straight sets to end the Panthers’ four-year reign as county champions.
“They play because they love the game,” May said, “but it is nice (to get the reward).”
For the Golden Eagles, it was their first title since 2011, but the school’s sixth in the last 14 years. Their reward is a berth in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations triple-A tournament in North Bay, not exactly around the corner, but reasonably accessible by bus.
It was a bit of a shock to see Regi, the regular-season champion that had defeated Sydenham 3-1 when the teams met earlier, succumb so meekly but Sydenham took the initiative from the start, taking advantage of the absence of the Panthers’ starting setter, Annie Kennedy.
Kennedy was away at a training camp for the national U-18 women’s rugby team and arrived in time to start the second set.
“She makes a difference when she’s here,” Regi coach Pat Farrell said, but nonetheless he conceded his team didn’t come prepared to play.
“We always talk about first contact,” he said, “in terms of the serves and the passing. When we do that, we’re a good team. Tonight, the serve and the pass weren’t good.
“(Sydenham) taking the first set gave them some confidence. Volleyball’s a huge game of momentum and once they beat us the first set, they were believing, and it’s all about belief in yourself.”
May said that throughout the match the team’s emphasis was on working hard, communicating and staying aggressive.
“We also talked a lot about keeping composure, being ready for the challenges of the game,” she said, “and the girls did a great job of all those things. We passed the ball well, too. Our service reception was steady throughout most of the game, but I thought they did a really good job of not wishing for it, but working for it.”
In the second set, May said, the Eagles had to overcome some jitters.
“We saw a little bit of panic setting in, wanting it to be easy,” she said. “Of course, Regi keeps the pressure up; it’s a challenging team to play, but the girls did a good job of reigning it back in, calming themselves down.
“Even though we served a lot of balls out, and we didn’t generate a lot of attack in the first part of the game, we stuck with something we talked about all year: making (the other team) play. Instead of having to get that kill right away, just make the other team play. Even though they didn’t keep their composure there, they worked to get it back, by not holding on to those mistakes, and going back to the hard work.”
Farrell tipped his hat to Sydenham rightside Danielle Miles and to setter Katie McNichols, a player he described as “one of the better setters we’ve had coming out of Kingston in the last 20 years.”
“She could go on to the next level and play somewhere,” he said. “A good setter like that makes the engine go.”
It was an abrupt end to a season during which Regi lost just one of 14 previous league and playoff matches.
“They wanted it,” Farrell said of the Eagles. “They were hungry.
“We’ve had the opportunity to beat them the last two years in the final; it was their time.”