Play five times a week, mixing in three kick-butt coaches, one lucky ace cheer, and a Mei-zing talent from Tokyo.
Those are some key ingredients for the recent success of the girls volleyball team at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary — the first Masset volleyball team in recent memory to compete at the provincial championships.
“We kind of came out of nowhere,” says Jessica Collison, who spoke with the Observer last week along with six of her 10 teammates.
In fact, the team was ranked sixth of the eight teams who arrived at the northwest B.C. zones qualifier in Terrace.
But after dropping game one to Hazelton, they started winning games and raising eyebrows, beating the second-ranked team in two sets and finally taking the number-two spot after a close final against the hometown team from Centennial Christian School.
The wins in Terrace won the team a spot at provincials in Fernie, B.C.
Paige Setso, who has played volleyball her whole highschool career, said practice was key — the team started training three times a week in early October, and many players also played community volleyball twice a week.
“We had three coaches, so there was always backup,” said Collison, noting that coaches Mariel Tecla, Meghan Daoust, and Cal Westbrook each focused on different moves, from serving to setting.
“We’re closer this year, and we have Mei,” said Brooklyn Lantin, talking about Mei Akaishi, an exchange student from Tokyo, Japan.
But if Akaishi is some kind of secret ringer, it’s news to everyone including her — this is her first year playing volleyball.
“She’s a tennis player, so that’s why she’s so good at spiking and running and getting there,” said Colison.
For a high school with less than 100 students, landing a berth at provincials is a big challenge.
It’s even bigger for teams on Haida Gwaii, where the cost and time it takes to travel off-island makes it tough to play many regular season games.
“The homework sucked!” said Mary Edgars. In November, the team had to make up for classes missed while making two ferry trips to the mainland, then flights for provincials.
The Fernie trip alone cost $20,000, which was covered by the school district, the province’s ViaSport agency, the Gwaii Trust Society, the Masset Haida Lions Club, and the team’s own fundraising — something most other teams in B.C. don’t have to do.
On island, the GTN girls did get to play games against the Skidegate junior team, and also got to scrimmage at home against a newly-formed boys volleyball team that hopes to make their official start next school year.
Other than that, a pair of games against teams from Prince Rupert and Kitimat was the only lead-up they had before zones.
When they reached provincials in Fernie, most of the other teams already had 40-game seasons behind them, not to mention club volleyball.
Although GTN didn’t win games at provincials, they did come home with hardware, winning the provincial award for Most Sportsmanlike.
“We made friends with lots of teams,” said Destiny Davidson, adding that they cheered and complimented other teams on the court, and went out for dinner with the team from Tsawwassen’s South Pointe Academy.
“That’s what we’re most proud of — keeping our heads high when competition was tough,” said athletics director Christine Cunningham.