The Earl Marriott Mariners are making up for lost time.
After half a decade of being near the top of the senior boys volleyball rankings – they had three top-five provincial finishes in four years before last season – the Mariners finally broke through with a title win in 2013.
Now, they have a second banner to hang next to the first.
The Mariners successfully defended last year’s AAA title Saturday at the Langley Events Centre, defeating the Kelowna Owls – the same team they beat in the finals a year ago – by a 3-1 score (25-23, 20-25, 25-16, 26-24).
“(Assistant coach Richard Thain) and I both thought we had a team that could do it again, we just needed to play consistently with confidence,” said EMS coach Bob Smith.
“It was a lot harder to make the finals this go around – we had to battle every match. But I guess that just makes the championship even sweeter.”
Last year, the Mariners only lost two sets during the entire provincial tourney, but this time, the team often struggled in the early going of matches; they lost the first set three times before Saturday’s semifinal against Oak Bay.
“We had a few missteps – and in the fourth set against Kelowna, we were down, too – but the guys were never really nervous at all,” Smith said.
“They were prepared, and confident – they’d been in this position before. But it was a battle – we didn’t real win a match cleanly.”
Smith heaped credit upon his team’s five Grade 12 players for keeping the team calm when facing adversity.
Senior Justin Faester was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, while fellow senior Eric Lee was named a first-team all-star and Even Bell-Foley was named to the second team.
Two more players, Braedon Montgomery and Grade 11 setter Tyson Smith, received honorable mentions.
After shrugging off some early inconsistencies, the Mariners hit their peak in time for semifinals, their coach said.
Against Oak Bay, Earl Marriott got off to a good start, winning the first two games, and eventually won 3-1.
“That’s when we finally got into a bit of a groove,” Smith said. “Justin and Eric, especially, really played well. They made sure we made it to the finals – and once we got there, it was a total team effort. Everybody played really well.”
For the Owls, it was their third straight championship game loss, having lost to EMS last year and to Oak Bay in 2012.
“They’re a nice team to play against,” Smith said. “They compete fiercely, but they’re a very classy team.”
Though the team will lose five seniors to graduation next year – Bell-Foley, Lee, Faester, Montgomery and Tyler Patrick – Smith expects the next wave of players to keep the team competitive moving forward.
“We have a great group of Grade 11s, and hopefully we’ll get some good junior guys coming up next year, too,” he said. “I think we’ll be good. We’ve been in the finals four of the last five years now, and I think we have a bright future.”