By Howard Tsumura, PNG
SURREY — Over the 15 seasons that she has coached the girls volleyball team at Surrey’s Pacific Academy, Stacey Stang has carefully crafted a culture of competition and caring, the likes of which led to moments like the one her Breakers experienced last Saturday.
Taking part in the championship final of the Spruce Grove (Alta.) Panther Invitational, long considered the best annual gathering of senior girls varsity volleyball talent in western Canada, Pacific Academy advanced to the tournament final where it beat Calgary powerhouse William Aberhart, a program which had not dropped a match in two seasons.
“There are moments where I watch my girls and my hair is standing on end,” explains Stang. “Seeing this group of girls and watching them celebrate with each other on such a unified front is amazing. I am so proud of them. Can you tell?”
She has good reason.
And it goes beyond the fact that three of her top seniors — middle Gabby Attieh (UBC), power hitter Alexis Jonker (Trinity Western) and setter/hitter Sophie Stone (Trinity Western) — are already committed to CIS university careers next season, and that virtually her entire roster returns from last season’s provincial title-winning team.
At the heart of the matter is the total community that the Breakers’ program has become.
Players not only strive for excellence on the court and in the classroom at the K-to-12 institution, they train together off court and do volunteer outreach work both in their local community and around the world.
“We’re a Christian community here,” says Stang, “and as much as they love volleyball, they have great perspective. They have other things in life just as important, like faith and family, and somehow they have leaned to balance it all.”
The Breakers, in fact, stay on a training regimen that would rival university programs.
Stang’s brother, former Major League pitcher Aaron Myette, is a certified personal trainer locally at Game Ready Fitness, and Pacific Academy players work under his guidance three nights a week in a wide-ranging fitness program.
Factor in practices, games, volunteer work overseas during spring break and homework and it’s no stretch to say that the Breakers are fully immersed in their high school experience.
And at the same time, as the No. 1-ranked Double A team, in a province in which there are four seperate tier classifications based on student population, these Breakers are crushing any notion that the smaller-tiered programs aren’t as strong as their higher-tiered cousins.
“I am not OK with a Double A team being perceived as a weaker team,” admits Stang, whose team won the B.C. title at that tier last season but was thought by many, to be the province’s best overall team. “Volleyball is unique in that we are moving away from the stigma of tiers. Tournaments bring us all together and so it doesn’t really matter what tier you are.”
That said, you might have a pretty hard time this season finding anyone who will tell you the Breakers aren’t the best girls volleyball team in western Canada, if not one of the top sides in the country.
Mikayla Funk, Christina Kroeger, Olivia Cesaretti and Malia Scholz are also part of an incredibly deep senior class. Grade 11’s Molly Peters and Bronwyn Martens as well as 10th harder Lauryn Billows are also a part of the mix.
“These girls have been playing together since Grade 3 and at the very foundation of their development is their friendship,” says Stang. “They have evolved into a skilled group because of their repetition and their immersion in the sport, but the biggest thing is that they are all each other’s greatest fans and encouragers. When you see that kind of unity, it always seems to translate on the court.”
That, in fact, was exactly what their proud coach saw last Saturday when a significant victory signalled the start of what looks to be another championship season.