With one of their star players on the limp and the majority of the capacity crowd rooting against them, it would have been understandable had the South Delta Sun Devils' dream season fallen just short.
All the momentum seemed to be with the Heritage Park Kodiaks in Saturday's provincial "AAAA" championship game at Port Coquitlam's Riverside secondary. They had clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth and deciding game. Sun Devils' Grade 10 standout Nicole McNamara spent the majority of a 25-16 game four loss on the sidelines after suffering what would later be diagnosed as a second degree ankle sprain.
Many of her teammates wept, including her twin sister Megan, as McNamara gingerly limped to the bench.
"We have enough depth to deal (with the injury)," said South Delta coach Dan Burgess. "What we couldn't deal with is the mental stress of seeing her leave the court. For me a coach, I knew we needed to get her back out there in whatever capacity for the team to find their centre again."
McNamara was taped up and back on the floor for the final set. The Kodiaks jumped out to a 4-1 lead but their surge came to a sudden halt. The Sun Devils regrouped to eventually take control of the deciding game and pulled out a thrilling 15-12 victory for the school's first-ever senior girls volleyball provincial title.
"We're the kind of team that just never gives up," beamed Grade 12 setter Emma Robinson whose brilliant play earned her tournament MVP honours. "As the season went on, we knew how good we could be and when we came here we knew it was possible. My team is amazing and I'm so grateful for this right now."
Having won the provincial junior title a year earlier, Burgess and co-coach Sandra Nash were cautiously optimistic of what this group could achieve. It only took a couple of weeks into the season before they realized this team was capable of much more than a top 10 finish.
The Devils entered the high-profile Red Surge Classic in early November as the No. 2 ranked team in the province and took over the top spot with a first place finish. They would stay in the penthouse for the balance of the season, winning the Fraser Valley championship, then turning in a dominant performance at the provincials. South Delta had not dropped a set before being extended to five by Earl Marriott in Saturday's semi-final, setting the stage for their gold medal classic against the Kodiaks.
"All the ingredients were in place," said Burgess. "We had a really good Grade 12 class this year with six seniors for leadership and all the right components coming up from juniors.
"(Winning the Red Surge) was kind of what we had planned all season. That was exactly the time we wanted to peak. For us as coaches, it was building the girls up so they would be mature enough and understand the target being on their back (as the number one ranked team). They certainly proved they could."
The provincial win, ends a journey that began five years ago for Burgess when he first began working with his graduating seniors at the club level in Grade 8. Even though this program is well-positioned to win more championships, what was accomplished with these girls will always remain close to his heart.
"It's the closest association I have had with any group," he added. "To see them go from Grade 8 to Grade 12, I couldn't be more happier for them. I will forget them."
PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONS SOUTH DELTA SUN DEVILS
#1 Emma Glennon
#2 Megan McNamara
#3 Cassidy Pearson
#5 Lauren Shirley
#6 Samantha Loiselle
#7 Nicole McNamara
#8 Sheima Rezai
#9 Megan McKenzie
#10 Christine Howlett
#11 Hunter McLean
#12 Emma Robinson
#13 Carly Johannson
#14 Courtney Bogress
#15 Anika Klassen
Dan Burgess Sandra Nash