Royals golden at zones
Our Lady of Mount Pleasant Royals Aidan Fenton gets an attack off against on Penhold Crossing Secondary School's Josh Linton during 2A zone boy's volleyball action in Camrose, Alta. on Saturday November 18, 2017. Camrose won 2-0 en route to winning gold and earning a birth into provincials. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian/Postmedia Network
Ryan Popowich was not sure what to expect out of his Our Lady of Mount Pleasant Royals boy’s volleyball team at zones — what he got was their best performance of the season and a gold medal.
The club has been steadily improving all fall, but appears to have hit their stride as they punched their ticket for 2A provincials in Taber by winning zones on Saturday, which they hosted.
It wasn’t even just that they won gold, no one was remotely close to the Royals in the Central Alberta region, this includes a 2-0 (25-9, 25-15) win over Pigeon Lake Regional School in the final.
But the season did not always appear to be on such a track. They struggled early in Popwich’s first campaign with team. He says they faced a lot of adversity through the first six weeks of the season. But a tournament in Kelowna against some of the best 3A teams in B.C. and Alberta galvanized them.
“A lot of it was adjustment to new coaches and my expectations which I was trying to build a different kind of culture than what they had in the past,” said Popowich. “But I give them credit, our leadership did a pretty good job of buying in and then everybody else came around with it too.”
Heading into zones they had one big hurdle left to get over and that was advancing past a quarter-final. They made it to the quarter-final in every tournament they played this season, but never made it beyond that point. With no quarter-final in zones, the head coach was curious to see how his team would respond. It’s safe to say it was a positive development.
What makes the team dangerous is their balance. They have multiple weapons at the outside hitter position, including Aidan Fenton, Quinten Twomey and Will Knopf. They also have a solid set of five Grade 12a, five Grade 11s and one Grade 10 — Kieran Isnor — who more than held up his end on the court.
“I have 11 guys that I’m pretty confident in putting on in different roles, even in this final I got everybody in and was pretty confident in doing so,” said Popowich. “Our depth is definitely something we have going for us heading into provincials.”
They have also had a lot of games go three sets, including the quarter-final in Kelowna. Their inexperience as a group has hurt them in those sets for most of the season, but that is starting to turn in their favour as they become more used to the big moment.
“It’s definitely helping us now,” said Popwich. “Guys are starting to figure out how to stay pretty level-headed, don’t get too high and don’t get too low. It’s been kind of fun to watch the progress of the kids”
Popowich is going into Alberta School Athletic Association championships not knowing what to expect. The Royals have not played any of the teams at provincials this season, and being new to the level he does not have a built-in knowledge of those teams either. But his eye is squarely on developing this team for next year when they host the province.
“These guys need to get these games in provincial championships, we don’t have enough within our program,” said Popwich. “This is what makes programs stronger is getting play these types of events and to see what the top guys look like.”
• The OLMP senior girls finished fourth at zones while both the junior boy’s and girl’s teams won their respective regional championships.