Even though they have been perched atop the provincial AAAA volleyball rankings for the entire season, the South Delta Sun Devils remain a work in progress as they take aim at their fourth B.C. title in school history.
A number of key players return from last year’s team that came ever-so-close to provincial gold, losing a five-set heartbreaker to longtime rival Riverside Rapids in the title game. They are loaded with height and can dominate at the net. It’s just a matter of consistently being in position to take advantage of it.
That will be determined in the weeks ahead and whether they can adequately fill the void of graduated twins Jane and Kate McDonald along with libero Esther Lim who passed on her Grade 12 season after being one of just three B.C. players to earn a spot in Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program.
“We knew last year all of our passing came from Esther, Jane and Kate. We were always pulling girls off the back row and putting on a libero. So our libero now probably played about 30 percent last year, so we kind of knew at the time we were forfeiting the long term plan for the short term of (trying to win provincials),” explained head coach Dan Burgess.
“So now this year, we have a ton of really talented offensive players that can struggle with passing because they haven’t played a ton at the back. Every team we play knows that we are weak on passing. We’re working on it. Every practice all we do is passing. We hardly ever hit. We don’t really need to. We are a great hitting and a great blocking team.”
The Sun Devils should get a better idea what they are up against at next month’s provincials at this weekend’s Best of the West Tournament at Kelowna Secondary. The Okanagan city is currently a hotbed at the AAAA tier with Okanagan Mission (No. 3), the host Owls (No. 4) and Mt. Boucherie (No. 8) in the current rankings. Okanagan Mission also happens to be hosting the B.C. championships.
Vancouver Island is also prominent with Claremont (No. 5), Mt. Doug (6), Dover Bay (No. 7) and Nanaimo (No. 10). South Delta is joined by Riverside (No. 2) and league rival Seaquam (No. 9) as the only current Lower Mainland teams among the top 10.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of competitive teams nearby with enrolment numbers, not talent, differentiating the AAAA and AAA tiers. South Delta lost to (AAA No. 1) Little Flower Academy in the final of last month’s UBC tourney while McMath (AAA No. 2) handed them a rare loss in South Fraser Premier League play over five sets.
Versatile 6-foot senior Mackenzie Campbell, who was a provincial all-star last year as an outside hitter, is now the team’s setter. Middle Myah Cressy (6-foot-1) is another returning provincial all-star while outside hitter Rachel Rosser (5-foot-11) can dominate. A large group of Grade 11s includes 6-foot-4 outside hitter Alex Turner Malinek, daughter of former UBC standout Richard Malinek.
The decision was made to carry a roster of 22 players and essentially run two teams throughout the season with Taka Katsube and Gaitlin Saip helping with the large coaching load. A handful of players float between the two squads for league games and tournaments until the roster has to be finalized at 15 for the playoffs.
“When there is this much talent and three of us coaching, you can’t make cuts,” Burgess added. “I do this not to win championships. I do this because I want girls to love volleyball.
“We know we don’t have a big contingent coming up (from junior). We have 11 Grade 11s and I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them are playing next year. It would have been a disservice to cut some these Grade 11s.”
South Delta will host Holy Cross on Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) in league play. Their regular season home finale is Oct. 24 when Seaquam visits at the same time while the “B” squad will be in the adjacent gym taking on Panorama Ridge.