They’re used to being underdogs.
Now, the Mount Baker Secondary Wild athletics program will get to experience what it’s like to be a favourite.
Heading into the B.C. Provincial tournament at the end of November, the MBSS Senior boys volleyball team is ranked number one in the entire province according to the official B.C. AAA rankings.
“It’s pretty surreal to be first,” said head coach Karley Ferner on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve been up there [for] the last couple of weeks, [but] we don’t get to play in a lot of tournaments in B.C. so [the ranking is] based on competing against Alberta teams that are highly ranked.
“It’s nice to stay up there even though we haven’t been playing in B.C., [but it] also makes us a little nervous because we haven’t played a lot of the teams that we will be playing at Provincials.”
The rankings, which are determined by a committee of coaches, have the Wild one spot ahead of the favourites heading into the year, Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary, and ten spots ahead of last year’s champions, Semiahmoo.
At the 2016 Provincial tournament, Mount Baker finished in eleventh place and started the 2017 season ranked seventh.
“[Last year] we knew that we could’ve probably gone a little bit higher [at Provincials],” Ferner said. “[This year], we added some height in our middle, which we were lacking last year. We had some hard working middles, but this year we added a couple of really tall Grade 11 students.”
The big additions in the middle are Grade 11 students Jordan Simpson (6’7) and Sheldon Thomas (6’4).They joined a stellar front row which already featured a pair of 6’5 Grade 12 students, right-side hitter Caleb Peters, who will play with the College of the Rockies Avalanche next fall, and power hitter Dawson Atwood.
“All of the boys came back quite a bit taller, quite a bit stronger [and having] played a lot of club volleyball,” Ferner explained. “So, their experience playing some really intense, high-level games has helped them this year for sure.”
According to Ferner, despite being ‘the team-to-beat’ heading into the ‘Big Kahuna BC Volleyball Championships’ at the Langley Events Centre, the Wild still have an underdog spirit.
“[Most other schools] get to play a lot of interleague games, so they have a lot more game time throughout the season,” she said. “They know each other really well [and] know the strengths and weaknesses of all the other teams.
“We’ll have to learn quickly once we get there, where we need to focus our energy for each team and I think it will definitely be a test for the boys to come in and play intensely in every single game.”
If the MBSS boys do manage to capture a gold, it will be a first for the team who previously won silver medals in 2001 and 2009.
While the team might not have the same familiarity with their competition that other schools do, they do have an advantage in their bond with one another.
“In those bigger centres, the club teams often draw from all the communities around, [but] when [our] guys are playing club it’s usually the same core group of kids playing together for years,” Ferner said. “They know each other well and they learn what each other needs on the court, which is really nice.
“There is [also] that element of surprise that goes both ways when we get to play new teams, so we can use that to our advantage as well.”
Beyond team success, the tournament will have big implications for individual players’ future careers. While Peters has already committed to COTR, there are a lot of his teammates who could be recruited following the event.
“There are a few Grade 12s that could definitely play college volleyball and Grade 11s who have the potential to play post-secondary as well,” Ferner said. “I know that there are a lot of eyes on them already, [and Provincials are] a huge event for the kids who are looking to be scouted.
“[A lot of post-secondary coaches] will be watching not only their skill, but how they conduct themselves on the court as well.”
As for the bump up from the little MBSS home gym, to the Langley Events Centre — the 5,276 seat home of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants — Ferner doesn’t see it as too big of an obstacle.
“It’s a big centre with a lot of volleyball going on, and a lot of different courts playing at once,” she said. “Thankfully, 90 to 95 percent of the boys on the team play club volleyball, so they’re used to playing in those big centres.”
The Provincial tournament will be held at the LEC, just outside of Vancouver, from November 29 to December 2. The week prior to the event, the Wild are hosting a Senior tournament at home on November 23 and 24.
Having one of the longest journeys of any school in the province, the MBSS teams are actively participating in fundraising activities, including an ‘Adopt an Athlete’ program.
Community members will have the chance to sponsor one of 25 team members from the boys and girls Senior teams with a donation, or $50 to receive a photo and a link to watch them live at the Provincial tournament.
Anyone interested in the promotion is asked to contact MBSS athletic director Kaley Wasylowich by going to the school office, or calling her at 250-426-5241 — extension 511.
According to Ferner, the team will also be regularly updating the Wild Athletics Facebook page with information on fundraising efforts and their upcoming home tournament.
As their last game-action prior to the Provincials, the home tourney should be a good showcase of the Senior boys and girls best volleyball.
“We’ve had about three weeks off, so we’re trying to arrange some scrimmages [before then],” Ferner said. “We’ve had some previous volleyball players that have played college and university players come out and help us. We’re trying to draw on the knowledge in the community around this sport and really make sure that we’re developing their game right until the very end.”