The Fraser Heights Firehawks and Seaquam Seahawks have ruled the world of AAA high school volleyball all season. This weekend, the teams will learn if those No. 1 rankings are accurate.
The senior boys' Firehawks and the senior girls' Seahawks head into their respective provincial championship tourneys as the clear-cut teams to beat thanks to top seedings. Both teams have dealt all season with the pressures such a ranking brings but now the only rankings that matter are the final standings on Saturday night.
"We're as ready as we're going to be," said coach James Ahn, whose Firehawks are in Kelowna for the boys showcase event.
"The boys are all really excited but they're also trying to deal with the realization they have a target on their backs. Every team in Kelowna will want to upset the top seed. We've been working towards this for three years and the time has come for these guys. We know there are a lot of good teams there, but if we execute like we can and we should, we'll be OK."
The Firehawks know what awaits them in the Okanagan. Fraser Heights won the Fraser Valley title last season before settling for third place at the provincials. This year the Firehawks hope to add a blue B.C. championship banner to the Valley flag they earned earlier this month.
One of the biggest tests will come from the Kelowna Owls, the second-ranked boys team that upended the Firehawks in power pool play 12 months ago.
"They'll have their home crowd out for sure, but we've dealt with that kind of thing before," Ahn said. "We played Kelowna last year in our very first game and ended up losing (2-1). Kelowna will be gunning for us, but after last year, our guys are going to be ready for them.
"I think the guys now realize how important that first day is and how they need to have a good start. At the same time, they know it's a long tournament and we don't want to peak on the first day; we want to peak on Saturday evening."
Closer to home, the high-flying Seahawks are looking to make some school history by capturing back-to-back provincial banners. Seaquam will be competing in the B.C. senior girls' tourney at Crofton House in Vancouver this weekend where they will put their two-year AAA win streak on the line.
Most of the Seaquam team has been through the pressures of provincial play before, creating a unique situation where coach Todd Clarke is showing more pretournament nerves than his players.
"I'm excited about going to the BCs, but the girls are all really calm; it's almost like they expect it happens every time," Clarke marvelled. "I try to tell them this is really special and it's a huge accomplishment to make it to the provincials, but they just see it as business as normal, like it's a part of the schedule. They don't realize that things have been really good here the last couple of years, but maybe that's good because they're not overly jacked up about it."
The Seahawks have been ranked No. 1 in the province since the start of the 2011 season and are the clear favourites to defend their title in Vancouver. Clarke, however, is cautious about such predictions knowing this year's tournament field is much deeper than it was a year ago.
"The team that probably concerns us the most is Vernon," he said. "We haven't seen them yet this year and I remember the Vernon girls were all really good when they were in Grade 10. If everything works out the way the draw is set up, we would see them in the semifinals and we have no idea what to expect.
"Even with the teams we have played a lot, if you play a team often enough they're eventually going to steal a game off of you so we know MEI and Clayton Heights will be tough games."
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