When the NCAA Div. 1 Women’s Volleyball Championship hit the court this week in arenas across the United States, and the Semiahmoo Peninsula – as well as other parts of Surrey – were well-represented among teams vying for the national crown.
The first round of the 64-team tournament began Friday, Dec. 6, and a handful South Surrey players are involved.
Gabby Brown, who attended both Semiahmoo Secondary and White Rock Christian Academy, is currently in her freshman season as a libero at Baylor University – the No. 1 team in the entire NCAA – while others competing in the year-end showdown include Earl Marriott grad Cecilee Max-Brown, a freshman outside-hitter with Oregon State; and University of Hawaii’s Tiffany Westerberg, a Maple Ridge native who played club volleyball with Cloverdale/South Surrey-based Academy Volleyball before moving on to the college ranks.
As well, another Academy Volleyball alum – Thana Fayad – is a senior competing with the University of San Diego. Despite living in Victoria, Fayad trained each week with the Cloverdale-based Academy program, making countless ferry trips back and forth.
Another Peninsula athlete, Elgin Park Secondary alum Donnée Janzen, nearly made the tournament, as well, but her University of Idaho squad narrowly missed the cut, losing its final qualifying game.
The South Surrey/White Rock area has for years been a hotbed of volleyball talent, with players routinely advancing to play at the university level in both Canada and the U.S., and some – like Earl Marriott alum Brianna Beamish – even playing professionally in Europe.
But having so many local talents all advance to the NCAA’s year-end showdown in the same year is rare, with Academy Volleyball coach/founder David Carrasco likening it to “a lightning strike.”
“It’s very rare. I was quite surprised, really, but you just never know how these things are going to work out,” he said.
“It’s really great. They’re all great kids and they work really hard.”
Shortly after speaking with Peace Arch News, Carrasco – who coached WRCA to a senior girls single-A provincial title in 2016 – was set to pack up and fly to Hawaii, where he would get the chance to watch both Westerberg and Fayad; Honolulu was one of a handful of host sites for the tournament.
Top-ranked Baylor – located in Waco, Texas – also hosted first-round games. Carrasco said if they advance further as people expect, he would try to travel there, as well.
“I don’t know if this will ever happen again, so I’ll take advantage,” the coach said of his flight plans.
Making this year’s feat even more impressive, Carrasco said, is the fact that most of the women have overcome various obstacles in order to reach their current levels of success, be it educational or in the case of Fayad, constant travel between the Island and South Surrey, where Academy was based before moving to its current 20,000-sq.-ft. facility in Cloverdale.
“(Farad) travelled two-and-a-half hours every day to come train over here, and those other kids, they woke up at 5:30 every morning, four days a week to train,” he explained.
“That’s commitment. When you’re in the middle of it, maybe you don’t see the results, but then you get to a point like this, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’”
The NCAA Volleyball Championship continues throughout the month, and wraps up with the title game on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh.