Playing in front of a packed Panther Pit, the VSS Panthers discovered a different heartbeat at the B.C. Senior AAA Girls Volleyball Championships Thursday morning.
Once they dealt with the pressure of trying to impress their peers, the Panthers used the cheers to advantage and dispatched the Caledonia Kermodes of Terrace 2-1 (18-25, 28-26, 15-12).
Later Thursday, the Panthers swept the L.V. Rogers Bombers of Nelson 25-16, 25-14. VSS finished preliminary play Thursday night against the Hugh McRoberts Strikers of Richmond, ranked No. 1 ahead of the Cats in Pool D.
“Once we got the first-game jitters out of the way, we played better,” said right side Kendra Cooper. “The crowd was crazy and we were able to feed off them.”
Cooper, 17, said once the Panthers find their stride, they get on a roll. She noted the communication improved as the opening match progressed.
Power Kristy Fugel, 17, also felt the Panthers were somewhat overwhelmed by the boisterous gym.
“We started off slow; I think we were nervous with all our friends watching,” said Fugel, one of eight returnees.
Fugel said VSS, coached by Keith Becker and Erin Philip, tends to raise their compete level to match their opponent.
“When we’re winning, we’re just much better moving and talking with lots of energy and everyone’s doing their job.”
The Panthers placed seventh at the provincials last year in Parksville and are rated No. 6. Two Prince George schools – the Duchess Park Condors and the College Heights Cougars are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. They both took their first matches.
The Sweet 16 is so competitive that several teams are being given a chance to finish in the medals. VSS finished second in the Valley playdowns behind the Sa-Hali Sabres of Kamloops.
The playoff round goes today with the bronze-medal match (4:30) and gold-medal final (6:30) scheduled for Saturday at the Panther Pit.
Meanwhile, the Seaton Sonics were at their best Wednesday in the B.C. Senior AA Boys playdowns at the Langley Events Centre.
The Sonics won Pool C without a loss and climbed to a No. 8 seed for the championship bracket. The Sonics took on the top-ranked MEI Eagles of Clearbrook in quarterfinal play Thursday night after icing Pacific Christian Pacers of Victoria 3-1 in the morning playoffs.
“The boys are very calm and controlled,” Seaton coach Fane Triggs told tourney media director Bob Carter after the Sonics won their second match.
Triggs said setter Avery Triggs, his son, and 6-foot-3 Sam Eddy were influential on Wednesday.
“Sam and Avery connected pretty well in the middle.”
Seaton swept DP Todd 25-21, 25-17, iced Hugh McRoberts 25-21, 25-19 and grounded the Lambrick Park Lions of Victoria 25-23, 25-15.
MEI and No. 3 Fulton Maroons opened with a rematch of last year’s AA final, and neither team was in top form. The defending champion Eagles won 25-20, 25-21, led by outside hitter Kaden Gamache.
“We passed very well, which gave our attackers lots of opportunities,” said MEI coach Jordan Geransky.
Gamache, a left-hander with power and accuracy, made the most of them. Fulton trailed by eight points in the opening set, but after a timeout, clawed back to within four.
“I told the boys if they keep giving them a free ball, they’ll punish us,” said Maroons coach Richard Bedard,
Front row attacker Danny Aspenlieder – who just signed with the UBC Thunderbirds for next year – had a strong hitting game for Fulton, the Okanagan’s top team.
Fulton lost 25-18 25-21 to Langley Christian Lightning and bowed 25-23, 7-25, 13-15 to Pacific Academy Breakers of Surrey before stopping Sa-Hali 3-0 Thursday morning.
Fulton met College Heights in the quarterfinals.