Giants win silver in tier 3

Katie Brickman
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Four local players help at nationals

It was a strange club volleyball season for four local athletes.

Moose Jaw's Dax Whitehead, Dalton Wolfe, Aiden Saladana and Brandt Thul (L-R) were part of the Southeast Giants U18 boys club volleyball team that won the silver medal in Tier 3 at the Canadian National Championships in Edmonton. Submitted photo

Dalton Wolfe, Dax Whitehead, Brandt Thul and Aidan Saladana were members of the Moose Jaw Element Panthers U18 team that won a provincial title last year. It was a first in over 40 years, but despite that, there was not enough local interest this year to form a competitive team.

“We were originally supposed to have a team, with some guys coming here, but some guys decided to go to Swift (Current), so we had no one to play with here in Moose Jaw,” said Aidan Saladana.

So, the foursome headed south to play with the Southeast Giants out of Estevan.

“We have a buddy that we played with on Team Sask down in Estevan,” said Saladana. “He said to come play with them, so we did.”

They headed down to Estevan in January and went down on weekends to practice with the team.

“It was definitely different compared to what we are used to,” said Saldana. “But it is a lot better than having nothing.”

The majority of the team is Grade 12s from around the province.

“We came together pretty well, surprisingly, and considering there is only two guys from Estevan on the team,” said Saladana. “A lot of were commuting from a ways away. I think we really gelled well together.”

The Giants came together well enough throughout the season, as they finished second at provincials. They won almost every tournament they entered, finishing third just once.

With a high finish at provincials, they were placed in Division 1 at the Canadian National Championships in Edmonton over the weekend.

In that pool was the Griffons de l’Outaouais from Gatineau, ranked No. 1 in Quebec, the Battle River Volleyball Club Vikings from Camrose, ranked sixth in Alberta and the Vernon Venom, the fifth ranked club from B.C.

In the first day of preliminaries, the Giants defeated the Vikings in straight sets, but lost to the Venom in three sets. They then rallied against the Griffons to beat them in three sets.

“That moved us on to Tier 1, but on the second day, we had to face some super tough teams,” said Saladana. “There was No. 1 from Ontario, No. 3 from Ontario and No. 2 from Manitoba.”

On the second day, the eight-man bench was a detriment, especially when Saladana injured his thumb blocking a smash. With no replacement hitter, the Giants went with a seven-player libero rotation. They went 0-3, but lost in close matches.

Those losses put the Giants in the third tier for the medal round. They faced the Saskatoon Huskies in the quarter-final and won in three sets. That put them in the semifinal against the Griffons, which they took in three sets.

The gold medal match saw them battle against the Burnaby Focus Blur, the third-ranked team in B.C. and they lost in three sets.

“It was definitely a good experience. You got to learn and see what other teams do to be successful and just being able to play with them is good too, even if we just couldn’t close a couple of times,” said Saladana. “I think we definitely could have done better.”

The silver medal was impressive as the team switched coaches after provincials.

“Our coach (Daniel Betnar) couldn’t make it, so we tried to find a coach and Colter (Heron) was able to step in and it was nice to have a coach that we’ve had before,” said Saladana.

All four players are headed to university to play ball. Wolfe is headed to the University of Regina, Whitehead to Lethbridge College, Thul to NAIT and Saladana to the University of Alberta.

“It was a good ending,” said Saladana. “It was great just to be there and it was a really good atmosphere.”

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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