With one provincial title banner already hanging in the gym, the Seaquam Seahawks senior girls volleyball team is back for more.
In 2011, the Seahawks soared over the class AAA pack en route to winning the B.C. title. While many of the stars of that team have graduated, the returning players have been bolstered by a talented crop of Grade 11 that has once again become the measuring stick by which opponents gauge their progress.
To steal an old saying, the Seahawks haven't rebuilt; they've reloaded.
"We had some outstanding players coming back as Grade 12s and our junior girls team last year was excellent," said Seahawks coach Todd Clarke. "They finished sixth in the province so this team is a mixture of two very good teams. I think we're as good as we were last year in some ways, but certainly consistency is not a strength. We're kind of all over the map that way. We're as good as last year, but certainly we're different."
The Seahawks have been perched atop the class AAA rankings since before the season and show signs of relinquishing that spot. They have lost several games in tournaments this year, but always to teams outside their classification. When a AAA shows up on their court, however, the Seahawks rise to the challenge.
Clarke said not only are his players not obsessed with keeping the No. 1 ranking, for the most part they don't even acknowledge it.
"I don't think the ranking bothers them," he said. "If anything, they're almost under whelmed by it. It's weird but if anything, they don't think we're as good as we were last year. It's almost like they don't believe it. We're still the team. We haven't lost to a triple-A team in two years and we're continuing with that streak. I believe this team can win provincials again but I'm not sure the kids believe it themselves yet."
While the stars of 2011 have moved on, the new crop of Seahawks continuing the North Delta school's tradition of dominant play.
The Seahawks are anchored by a pair of outstanding Grade 12 middle blockers in Nicola Laniuk and Mandelyn Erikson. That duo gets strong support from two up-and-coming Grade 11s in setter Leah Martin and outside hitter Amy Davidson. Clarke said when the Seahawks are at their best, the team passing is fluid, which allows Martin to direct traffic toward the middle.
"The strength of our team is our middle blockers Nicola and Mandelyn," Clarke said. "After that, honestly, we're trying to force the girls to clean up in our end. We either win games or lose games - seldom do teams beat us. We dictate the flow and if we get overly aggressive or not aggressive enough, then it hurts us."
The Seahawks have managed to stay sharp by coupling league play with strong opponents in elite tournaments. By exposing the girls to a high-level of competition, Clarke is confident the Seahawks will be prepared of adversity should they run into it in the Fraser Valley championships or the provincials.
Clarke added that the 2011 edition of the Seahawks had a relatively easy time in rolling to the B.C. banner thanks to a dearth of quality teams at the AAA level. That scenario will definitely not play out the same way this year.
Seaquam will be challenged by fourth-ranked MEI in the Fraser Valley championships this month and, should they advance from there, strong teams from Nanaimo, Vernon and northern B.C. will be waiting at the provincials.
"Every year the quality of the AAA division ebbs and flows a bit," Clarke said. "Last year AAA was relatively weak but this year it's much stronger. Last year the Island and the Okanagan weren't very strong but this year, there are good teams all over the province.
"It's going to be a more well-rounded field at provincials."