Merritt Secondary School (MSS) has concluded its highly anticipated hosting of the Sr. Girls AA Provincial Championship Tournament this past weekend. The successful outing featured many storylines between the different teams. The event also proves that Merritt is a very viable host for such a high level tournament. 

“This truly was a special event,” said MSS Athletic Director, Gian Cavaliere. “From the parents who traveled to support their kids, to the coaches, and to the athletes themselves, they were all so pleasant and their feedback on how appreciative they were of our tournament, and the work we’ve put in was pretty cool to see.” 

The tournament began with a welcome banquet Wednesday night, November 30, at the Merritt Civic Centre. All 16 teams gathered for a celebratory dinner, catered by Kekuli Cafe, before putting their game faces on the following day.  

“The theme of the banquet was ranches and rodeos,” Cavaliere said. “Teams came all dressed up in their best cowgirl outfits, we even had one team who sported a cow costume with inflatable balloons as utters.”

The banquet featured Indigenous drummers, guest speakers, and different activity stations relating to the theme of the night. Teams all brought one prize for an exchange raffle with the other teams and there were different prizes and giveaways included as well.  

The following day, an opening ceremony was held at the MSS gym. Teams all arrived in a ceremonial grand march and heard speeches from different individuals, saw an Indigenous dance performance, as well as a number from the Merritt Performance Company.

Cavaliere also noted that Panthers player Brooklyn Snee was given the opportunity to sing the national anthem for the opening ceremony of the tournament. 

“The team got up and hovered behind her to show support because she was a bit nervous going up by herself,” he explained. “She sang the anthem and killed it! It was a great way to start up our opening ceremony.” 

Moving onto the games, it was a very action packed Thursday, with the Panthers winning their opening game at the MSS gym.

“They won their first game against Smithers and the there was a huge crowd who came out to support them,” said Cavaliere. “I know that they were nervous playing in a provincial tournament with some high end teams but they pulled out that first win.” 

Unfortunately, the Panthers did not get make it further into the tournament, losing their next series of games but winning their final match to land a 15th place finish.

“What I thought was pretty great was the amount of people from the community who came to support them in their last game because, for a lot of these Grade 12 girls, this was the last ever volleyball game they would play in a competitive fashion.” 

It was a family affair throughout the weekend, according to Cavaliere, noting that there were a lot of relatives involved with the different teams.

“I think it’s pretty cool to learn how many girls were actually daughters of coaches,” he said. 

“You saw a lot of family oriented with the tournament. Notre Dame had two sets of sisters on their team.”

Notre Dame was the number two ranked team in the tournament, losing to eventual champions, Kalamalka Lakers in the semi finals. 

“I was most impressed with the resilience we showed certainly in our semi finals match against Notre Dame pushing back to win in five sets after being down two matches,” said Lakers Coach Dean Francks. “We lost our first match of the tournament but from there, I’d say, we continually got better.”

Francks noted that he understood the amount of work required to run the provincials as Kalamalka was the host three years ago. 

“In my mind, Gian and the rest of the committee did an outstanding job of putting on this tournament,” he said. “The whole thing was first class right from the start, truly a great experience for all the athletes in the tournament. We felt welcomed by the community, seeing the banner as we entered the town was just awesome.” 

A similar upset also took place against number one ranked team Langley Fundamental, with the winner, Mulgrave Secondary, eventually falling to second place after a hard fought championship match with the Lakers.

“The top four teams ended up in the top four rankings, that is a testament to BC High School Sports getting the rankings right coming into the tournament.” Brent Magnowski, coach of Langley Fundamental Titans, 

Magnowski, led the Titans in a come from behind win against Notre Dame for third place. This was his last season with the team after six years of coaching. 

“Leaving after being able to coach my daughter and some of these other kids for the last six years has been a blessing for me,” he said. “Being here was the icing on the cake.”

Magnowski applauded the people behind the event stating, “it’s one of the best tournaments that I’ve been to in the last 10 years.” 

“I have to admit, the volunteers, the staff, and the officiating were amazing.” 

Cavaliere explained that he and the rest of the organizing body tried to accommodate for many requests and needs for the visiting schools. One such need demonstrates how willing MSS was to go above and beyond.

“One of the schools lost a student Monday before the tournament,” said Cavaliere. “The student was a friend of the team and the school reached out to us asking if we can provide some counseling services in case the girls need it, and we were on it right away.” 

MSS provided three counselors for the event which the girls took advantage of on Saturday. 

“It was pretty heartbreaking for us to hear the news, but we were happy to provide the support that team needed.” 

Prior to the provincials, MSS had already hosted two 16 team tournaments which gave the committee a good sense of what to expect with logistics of running the games. However, the provincials is more than just the games, and reflecting back on how the event turned out, the MSS Athletic Director realized a few things. 

“I think the one thing that really surprised me was the sheer number of volunteers needed to run an event like this. We’re talking about score keepers, lines people, people at the ticket tables, people making and delivering food, and people taking products to the different venues. We were very fortunate that MSS and the community of Merritt came out in huge numbers to help support this tournament through volunteer roles.”          

2022 Sr. Girls AA Provincial Volleyball Tournament by Izaiah Reyes

During the closing ceremony, Cavaliere shared some emotional words about how the community was affected by the 2021 floods but still showed resiliency and the willingness to host the tournament. 

“The entire crowd stood up and gave a standing ovation,” he recalled. “I think that was a way of displaying their gratitude towards us. It was a really cool moment for me and will definitely be tattooed in my mind forever.”

A number of people throughout the tournament had reached out to Cavaliere in person or via email, to send him a message of appreciation with the amazing event that everybody involved with the tournament has put out.

“This raises our profile and raises our brand,” he said. “It gives teams another option to come and play sports. Merritt is a great location, you wouldn’t have to travel very far to get here. Going to a tournament here you will be guaranteed that it is well ran, and you know you will be cared for because of the work that is being put in.”

As of now there are no immediate plans to host another high profile tournament like this. Cavaliere notes that there are already hosts for the following provincial tournaments and that the school has no plans to bid for a provincial tournament of a different sport. 

“I want to thank all the sponsors, the officials, community of Merritt, MSS staff and student volunteers, the host moms who looked after each team, my committee who’ve put in multiple hours of work to ensure that this tournament ran as well as it did,” he said. 

“Depending on how much we can do, there might be plans down the road to put a bid for hosting this again.”