THE Argyle Pipers senior girls volleyball team did something Thursday night no team has done since 2006 - beat the Handsworth Royals in the North Shore championship final.
Argyle was the class of the North Shore league this year, finishing in first place to earn the right to host the playoff tournament. On Thursday night the Pipers were hoping to put an exclamation point on their season but they knew that the Royals would not give up the crown quietly.
In the first set Argyle showed their strength in building a small lead and eventually went up 24-21 to sit within a point of an important early advantage. It was at this point, however, that the Royals started to show just why they've won five league titles in a row. Ripping off four straight points, Handsworth vaulted ahead to earn a set point of their own. But then, the Royal reign ended. Argyle fought off a total of three set points with timely hitting from Grade 10 star Kendra Finch and eventually claimed a 29-27 win. From there the result seemed almost inevitable. The Pipers blasted eight straight points to start the second set and went on to win easily. The third set was closer but the result the same with co-captain Jayme Forrest blasting a kill on match point to give the Pipers a 2927, 25-14, 25-21 win and their first North Shore title since back-to-back wins in 199697.
After the match Argyle head coach Alisha Di Bono reflected on the way her team wavered but ultimately prevailed in the crucial first set.
"It was huge," she said. "We needed to start off with the first one. I think the nerves got to us . . . I think there was a lot of pressure. Throughout the season we've learned to battle and I think those lessons came into play in the first set."
Finch was a powerful presence throughout the match. It was on her powerful jump serve that the Pipers notched their eight-point run to start the second set and it was her monster spikes - from the front row and back - that found the floor whenever Argyle needed a point.
"Setters know that they can give her the ball and they trust her to put it away," said Di Bono. "She's the kind of player that coaches love to have because she is coachable. You ask her to jump, she asks you how high. She's that clutch player that you give her the ball and she'll put it away."
The Pipers also got standout performances from Forrest on the right side, middle blocker Sarah Haysom, outside hitter Brianna Burton and setters Gabby Prosperi-Porta and Elaine Sadler. Di Bono also highlighted her team's defence, a former weak point that has become a strength, as a major key to the win.
"Defence wins games and that's what we were focusing on," she said. "We picked up a few balls that maybe earlier in the season we wouldn't have and we were able to put them away."
And how does it feel to topple the mighty Royals who have long ruled over the North Shore?
"It's definitely nice," said Di Bono with a little laugh. "(But) we dedicated this game to our seniors - we've got six of them - and I'm glad they all got to see the court at some point. It's nice to know that we've stripped Handsworth of their consecutive titles but I'm more happy and proud that we were able to give our seniors a North Shore championship in their last year."
Next up on the calendar are the AAAA Lower Mainland playoffs starting Nov. 17. Argyle will likely come in as the No. 2 seed behind Richmond's McMath. Di Bono is hoping her Pipers can ride their recent success to a berth in the provincial championships and a potential place in the medal round.
"I think we're getting to the right point in our peak-ness heading to these big tournaments. We went through some growing pains throughout the season and we're definitely gelling and coming together and playing beautiful volleyball."
St. Thomas Aquinas topped West Vancouver secondary in the North Shore premier league bronze medal match Wednesday night prior to the gold final.