Resilience and redemption for STM

Disappointment would give way to pride as the St. Thomas More Knights’ senior girls volleyball team wrapped up the 2018 season with a win.

Winning your last game of the provincial AA championships is always the goal, but when you’re the host as well as a perceived underdog, it’s easy to be overwhelmed.

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By finishing third overall, the Knights walked off the court not only as fan favourites but as victors in a battle of exhaustion and attrition.

They shook off a heartbreaking 3-0 loss to eventual provincial champion Pacific Academy – a setback that was a sweep in name only – and regrouped for a 2-1 win over MEI.

It was the squad’s heart on display, prevailing with a resilience that left many family members and fans brushing tears from their eyes.

“We thought about that, how were we going to handle the distractions and all that entails (as tournament hosts),” remarked co-coach Danielle Paloposki. “I don’t know how they handled that pressure, but they were amazing. They came out and played outstanding.”

Backed by tremendous support from the STM community of students, staff and family members who shouldered the hosting duties, the team was able to focus on its game-to-game tasks.

They rolled through the round robin undefeated, beating Sa-Hali, Langley Christian and Prince Charles.

The playoffs began with a 3-1 victory over John Barsby, where, after taking the first set, the Knights were handed their first set setback. After that 22-25 knock, they rallied and hammered the Nanaimo opponent 25-2, then locked it up with a 25-19 decision.

It lifted the previously No. 3-ranked Knights into the quarterfinal against Pacific
Christian, another team that entered the playoffs among the top-10 rated squads.

The Knights were in peak shape, peeling off a 3-0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-16) victory to line up against No. 2-seed Pacific Academy in the semifinal.

The first set was pushed to extra points, with the Knights ahead 24-21 before the Surrey school rallied for a 27-25 win.

The second set was nearly as tight, going to Pacific Academy 25-20. They repeated that score in the third set to advance to the final.

While STM left the court heartbroken, Paloposki said it was an immense test that the girls all rose to meet.

“Pacific Academy is a very strong team, so we knew we had a battle,” she said. “When we got that late lead I thought we would take it. The girls fought hard but lost a bit of confidence after that.”

To beat MEI, another top-five rated program, STM needed to rally from an 11-4 deficit in the deciding set before claiming bronze.

“That was a big highlight,” said Paloposki. “To take that medal after coming from behind was amazing. We had players who (against Pacific Academy) weren’t at their best and took it hard, feeling they’d let the team down.

“This isn’t a team that lost often, so to be able to pull together one last time and work together was incredible.”

Receiving first and second team all-star honours were Grade 12s Lauren Boddington and Sienna Mastromonaco, respectively.

Along with the graduating foursome, who also include Mia Malinowski and Francesca Sandini, Paloposki noted the stellar contributions of Grade 10 middles Ezawa Malish and Sophie Sutherland. Malish was a force at the net, while Sutherland delivered from the service line.

“We’ll be missing some key players (that graduate),” Paloposki said. “Everyone contributed and showed very strong competitive spirit.”

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