By Sean Rooney on November 8, 2018.
As the server leapt into the air, players on the other side of the net took a step backwards.
After the right side hit a ball into the hands of a block, the opponent turned to his coach and shook his digits in pain.
And when the captain lifted the South East Zone Volleyball League trophy after his last game on home court, the fans erupted.
Such was Wednesday night for the Senator Gershaw Gators and their star, Chris Byam, who orchestrated all three of those scenes to earn the team a third league win in the past four seasons.
“It’s definitely huge being at home and just having that support,” said Byam, a 6-foot-6 wunderkind who’s already committed to play at Mount Royal University in Calgary next year. “In your last year it’s always nice to have the fans.”
Gershaw had more than Byam working for them in a straight-sets 2-0 (25-16, 25-19) championship win over Hat High, which had beat both Brooks, then Monsignor McCoy earlier in the night to advance. Fellow Grade 12 players Aidyn Phillips and Thomas Smith also had a lot to do with it, though nobody could ignore Byam even when he wasn’t getting the ball.
“It’s really tough when you’re playing someone that good,” said Mohawks senior Jared Stach. “You’ve got to put your best game on the court.”
While Gershaw had an hour break after taking out Crescent Heights 2-0 (25-23, 25-17) in the semifinals, Hat High went three long sets to beat McCoy 2-1 (21-25, 25-22, 16-14) and then went straight into warmups for the final. That played a factor as the home side broke out to a 9-3 lead and never looked back.
“That’s with every team, if you can get out there and get the jump on them, swing that momentum,” said Byam of the early focus. “I actually wanted to play them, I was pretty fired up. The first time we played him was when I was coming back from an injury, a torn rotator cuff. I wanted to get back out there and play at full strength.”
For Hat High, simply making the final was a big deal. They’re still a young squad and wanted another shot at Byam and company after squandering a 2-0 lead at Gershaw in the regular season.
“I think a big part of our season was growth,” said coach Mike Jerred. “We recalibrated our expectations early in the season after we played Senator Gershaw here. Huge success for our team tonight to see them again in the final.”
Both teams will head to Lethbridge next week for zones —Hat High in the 4A draw, Gershaw in the 1A — with differing expecations. Gershaw has won silver at provincials each of the last two years and would like to take the final step in Byam’s last season. The Mohawks have beat Chinook this season but getting to provincials would require a couple big upsets.
Byam, named league MVP for the second year in a row, wants to finish on top. His teammates and coach know it’s a rare opportunity.
“It’s certainly a luxury having a player of Chris’ calibre and talent on a 1A school,” said coach Andy Phillips. “I felt like we ran a pretty balanced attack in the final but just having him there anytime you need him for those big points… he’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type kid.”
Varsity girls playoffs are tonight at Crescent Heights.
Junior varsity league titles were decided earlier this week.
On Monday, Hat High swept to a junior boys win. After taking out St. Michael’s in the semifinals, they won 2-0 (25-16, 25-15) over Eagle Butte in the final.
Tuesday in Dunmore, the host Talons had two teams in the running, one of whom won the banner. Talons Black beat Talons Teal in the quarter-finals, then Crescent Heights in the semifinals before narrowly edging Hat High 2-0 (27-25, 25-23) in the final.
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