ON Thursday night the four top teams in the North Shore senior girls premier volleyball league gathered in one noisy gymnasium and at the end of the night a somewhat surprising team emerged with a firm grasp on first place.
In a league long dominated by AAAA powerhouse Handsworth and AA dynamo St. Thomas Aquinas, it's the Argyle Pipers who find themselves in top spot as the regular season reaches its crescendo.
"I think it's a surprise for most people," Argyle head coach Alisha Di Bono said about the position the Pipers are in. "I'm not surprised. I kind of hold my teams to a high standard and I know the skill and the talent that they have. I knew that they had it within them to be the No. 1 team on the North Shore. I think it always comes down to the girls' confidence and how they're carrying themselves. I think they might be surprised but I think they're starting to own that standing and that ranking and they're starting to believe a little bit more in themselves and their performances are showing that."
Thursday was a doubleheader night at STA with Argyle meeting fourth-place West Van in Game 1 and third-place Handsworth taking on the host Fighting Saints in Game 2. The Pipers entered the night in top spot by a slim margin but managed to hold their ground with a come-from-behind win over the Highlanders.
West Van won the first two sets before Argyle stormed back to take the last three. The comeback began with a 25-8 rout for the Pipers in the third set.
"It almost seemed like within the break between sets number 2 and 3 they just decided to show up," Di Bono said of her team. "From losing two games and then coming back and keeping a team under 10, it was almost like they said, 'Hey, what are we doing?' and completely turned it around."
While Di Bono would rather see her team take control of matches from the start, Thursday's win was an important one, she said.
"I was actually super proud that they were able to fight back. I think that that was an important lesson for them to learn - seeing that they are able to be down but still able to make some clutch plays and come out on top. Just having that under their belt is a good lesson, it was good experience for them to see that they have the ability to come back."
This week the Pipers jumped into the provincial AAAA rankings for the first time this season, slotting in at No. 8, three spots behind Handsworth. The Royals and the Pipers have already played twice in the North Shore league with each team getting one win.
The Pipers are hoping to keep the momentum rolling throughout the season with the goal of making it all the way through the Lower Mainland championships to claim a berth at provincials. To do that they'll need to start acting like they belong on top of the standings, said Di Bono.
"I think our biggest struggle is staying consistent and that comes with the confidence level," she said. "They're not, especially our seniors, used to being on such a successful team so there are moments of doubt and in pressure situations they tend to flip-flop a little bit. It looks like we're finally getting to the point where they're seeing that they're a better team than in the past. . . . When they're talking and having fun I don't think anybody on the North Shore can beat them."
They'll find out if they can stay on top in the next few weeks as there are more big matches leading up to the North Shore playoffs, which will run Nov. 5-8. Included on the schedule are a couple more doubleheaders that are expected to bring twice the excitement to the floor. The doubleheaders create a great atmosphere for volleyball, said Di Bono.
"I think it's great," she said. "It just kind of brings some more excitement to the gym. We had a single match for our last game and it was super quiet. It feels more exciting when there are more people there, especially when teams are bringing their fans along with them."
The top four teams will be back together on the floor once more on Oct. 30 at Handsworth with Argyle taking on STA and the Royals battling West Van.