It was a mantra repeated by Kalamalka Lakers head coach Dean Francks throughout the weekend in Merritt at the B.C. High School AA Senior Girls Volleyball Championships:
Why not us?
Francks said it to his fourth-seeded girls from Coldstream in the 16-team field when they opened the championship in the power pool with the top-three schools, and went 1-2:
Why not us?
He said it during time outs. He said to his troops, “Oh, one more thing,” as they got set to return to the floor following a timeout in the provincial best-of-five semifinal down two games to none to the tournament’s No. 1 seed – who they lost to in power pool play – and at match point trailing 24-21:
Why not us?
Four hours before the title match, during warm-up for the gold-medal game, and throughout the final contest of 2022 that would take five games, Francks reiterated those three, one-syllable words:
Why not us?
The question was ultimately answered early Saturday evening, Dec. 3, in the Nicola Valley, after tournament MVP Aimee Skinner killed the final point with authority on a quick set to the middle in the fifth-and-deciding game 15-10 victory over the second-seeded Mulgrave Titans of West Vancouver, giving the Lakers the provincial championship.
“The message to our girls all season was to get to the provincials, and then the message when we got here was let’s finish top-four,” said Francks, helped out in Merritt and throughout the season on the bench by assistant coach Jason Bilodeau. “And we just kept saying, ‘why not us?’ The girls kept fighting hard all weekend.”
The provincials began with that power pool against the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame Jugglers of Vancouver, No. 2 Musgrave and No. 3 Langley Fundamental Titans, where Kal went 1-2, beating only Langley.
In a crossover game in the Round of 16, the Lakers defeated Shas Ti Kelly Road Grizzlies of Prince George to advance to the quarterfinals – one win away from the goal of finishing top-four – against Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy Wolves.
Knocking off the Wolves to advance to the semifinal meant a rematch with Notre Dame. Trailing 2-0 and down to match point at 21-24, the Lakers got the ball back after that time out and served out the third game, 26-24. Kal won Game 4 to take the semi to a fifth and deciding set, which Kal won 15-12.
That set the stage for a thrilling championship with Musgrave, who eliminated Langley Fundamental in the other semi.
“There was a three-to-four hour wait before the final, which was tough,” said Francks. “But in the final, there had to have been 1,000 people in the gym. They couldn’t have packed in any more. The energy was electric. Merritt did a great job hosting the tournament.”
The provincial champs were actually shut out of the post-tournament first-team all-star selections. Lakers power hitter Sakura Kobayashi was named to the second-team, as was Fulton Secondary power hitter Makenna Doyle. The Maroons placed sixth.
“Having two teams from the North Okanagan finish in the top-six in B.C. is awesome,” said Francks, who likely coached his final game as his daughter, Kristen, the team’s setter, is in Grade 12. “I’ve coached a lot of these kids in multiple sports over the years. They’re all so great. To finish things with a B.C. championship is just amazing.”
Fulton played and defeated Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate Knights in its crossover Round of 16 game Friday, then was relegated to the consolation side with a loss to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.