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Sentinel Spartans win B.C. volleyball title, stirring memories of 1984

Daughter claims provincial title nearly 40 years after mom (and coach) won with the same West Vancouver high school team

They both scored the winning point to secure victory for the Sentinel Spartans at the B.C. provincial high school volleyball championships – nearly 40 years apart.

Karen Kirkwood won the team’s first title with a tip in 1984, and her daughter Karissa won with the same attack in 2023.

This year, co-coach Kirkwood was courtside from season start to finish, helping the Spartans repeat history at the senior girls AAA provincial finals on Dec. 2 in Dawson Creek.

As the final attack flew past the Vernon Panthers, the Spartans coalesced in a mass of limbs, cheers and beaming faces.

For Kirkwood, it was a moment of déjà vu.

“It was all in slow motion,” she said, unable to hold back happy tears. “I just sat there on the bench. I couldn’t even jump up. They were all jumping around, and it just seemed like a dream.”

Goal to win the season from the get-go, coach says

As it was for her single-A team years ago, the win didn’t come easy for the Spartans.

The Sentinel squad came into the provincial tournament strong as the No. 1 seed. In their pool they went 3-0 to earn a bye into the quarterfinals. There against Nelson's LV Rogers – a team that had an “exceptional” left side hitter, according to Spartans coach Dave Gibson – the Spartans won in four sets. That set up a rematch in the semis against fourth-seeded Little Flower Academy, a team the Spartans topped in pool play. LFA took the first set but the Spartans took the next three.

The final was a back-and-forth battle with Sentinel taking the first set, then Vernon taking the next two.

“In the fourth set we fell behind and things looked grim, but as we’ve done countless times this season we rallied and squeaked out a fourth set win,” Gibson said.

In the last, tie-breaking set, the back-and forth continued, but Sentinel started to pull away. Vernon kept it close, coming back from 14-9 to 14-12, but Karissa put the final ball down to take the victory 15-12.

“The crowd was electric, the refs were tough but fair, and the people of Dawson Creek were so nice and welcoming, it was a memorable experience for all involved,” Gibson said.

Recognized players on the Sentinel team include Parva Jabbari (Grade 12) as first team all-star, twins Claire and Cate Eisler (Grade 11) as second team all-stars, and Jayme Bracewell (Grade 9) as an honourable mention for her play as libero.

The win stamped a hard-earned milestone for Sentinel’s senior girls volleyball team, which made provincials last year for the first time in decades.

This season was nothing short of dominant. The Spartans went 10-0 in league play, won the Vancouver Sea to Sky Zone championship, and came first at Handsworth’s North Shore Invitational, where they played against AAAA schools. They also came second at Trinity Western University’s Spartan tournament, Vancouver Island University’s senior girls tourney and Riverside’s Red Serge Classic Invitational. The team’s impressive overall record was 48-7.

Kirkwood said she was quoted in a newspaper article 39 years ago saying it was her team’s goal from the get-go to win the provincial championship.

“And that was exactly how we started our season this year,” she said. “So that was in the back of their head, I guess … even when it looked quite dire, they just never gave up.”

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