Gutsy, spirited and emotional all describe the journey the Heritage Woods Kodiaks travelled in Saturday's B.C. AAAA senior girls volleyball championship final in Port Coquitlam.
Rallying from a 2-0 deficit to push the South Delta Sun Devils to a fifth and deciding game - where the No. 1-ranked Sun Devils prevailed 15-12 - provided cold comfort moments after the final point was scored.
Gutsy, spirited and emotional also applied to Heritage Woods' own performance during a physically and emotionally draining final - where they displayed passion, determination and skill in a season setting showdown.
There wasn't much to separate the two, as it came down to who could dish back and tame momentum the longest. In the end, South Delta's defence was a tick better and they cashed in on a little more luck along the way.
"(South Delta) played really good volleyball, we just got a little behind [in] the first two sets," said Kodiaks coach Alex Seres. "It was tough to fight back from behind when Delta got that (2-0) lead, but we did.
"I knew if we had a lead we'd be better off, but (South Delta) played unbelievable volleyball on both sides."
The tale of the tape didn't start so well for the Kodiaks, who roared into the final having won 15 straight sets including a 3-0 (25-15, 25-23, 25-15) decision over Dr. Charles Best in the semifinals. They trailed most of the way during the first two sets against South Delta, losing both by identical 25-22 scores.
The Sun Devils, who survived a dramatic 3-2 thriller earlier Saturday over Earl Marriott to advance to the championship final, corralled the game's early momentum through some stellar back court defence. They also received standout performances from Grade 10 twins Megan and Nicole McNamara and setter/tournament MVP Emma Robinson.
In the third set, the Kodiaks and Sun Devils exchanged leads a number of times with the Valley champs holding a 20-19 advantage before the Port Moody school pushed ahead. Heritage pulled out a dramatic 26-24 triumph on a stellar block by leftside Emma Jennings.
Behind that bit of momentum, the Kodiaks dominated the next set 25-16 to force a fifth and deciding match with their Fraser Valley nemesis.
With everything on the line, both squads set up a fierce front. Heritage Woods held a 5-1 lead early on Alessandra Gentile's cross-court kill.
South Delta reclaimed the momentum and pulled ahead 7-5 on Megan McNamara's skilled net shot.
One more time, the Kodiaks forced their way to the front of the pack when Gentile delivered a back court smash to make it 10-9.
That was the end of their run, however. The Sun Devils retook the lead on McNamara's dart to the front court, then rode the momentum to South Delta's first B.C. girls title.
Despite the disappointing ending, Heritage Woods can celebrate many nuggets of gold over a season that saw them ranked first or second most of the year.
"This is a great group of girls, we've grown up together. We're a family," said a teary-eyed Gentile. "I've played with most of them over my club years. We learned how to play as a team in the end. In those last two sets we came back so hard, we wanted it so hard."
Both Gentile and Jennings were named AAAA first team all-stars, while teammate Alison McKay was a second-team selection.
Last year, the Kodiaks finished fourth at the B.C.s while South Delta stood 10th overall. While the Port Moody lineup will have six players returning for next season, they will lose seniors and starters Madison Burt, Samantha Thompson, Gentile, Jennings and McKay.
Also graduating are Jacquelyn Dittrich, Quinn Li and Mikaela MacPhail.
The Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils, meanwhile capped a tremendous run at the provincials by placing fourth overall. On Friday, they outlasted Kelowna 3-2 before succumbing to the Kodiaks in the semifinal.
They were edged 2-1 in the bronze medal game by Earl Marriott. Read more on Best's run in Friday's NOW.
Earning a first team all-star nod was setter Nikki Cornwall, while Brittany Aldridge was named to the second all-star team.
The host Riverside Rapids finished eighth after falling 2-1 to South Kamloops, while Terry Fox Ravens blanked Mount Baker 2-0 to claim 15th spot overall.