FAIRBANKS — Alberta volleyball fans can officially celebrate now. When the Arctic Winter Games contingent arrives back in Alberta this weekend, they will bring with them not one, but two gold ulus for volleyball.
In a way, Alberta North boys volleyball played a perfect tournament from start to finished at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games. When they beat Yukon in the gold ulu game Friday, they did so without dropping a set.
The game wasn’t without its close moments. In fact, it looked on more than one occasion as though Yukon might be able to take at least one set, but Alberta was always there to stop them at just the right time.
To understand the dominant performance displayed by Alberta North, one must look back through the entire round-robin play. From Sunday through Thursday, Alberta played each team in the tournament twice and emerged Friday evening with a 26-0 set record.
Alberta steamrolled through the semifinals, defeating Alaska in three sets, 25-11, 25-12, 25-13. In Friday’s gold ulu game against Yukon Alberta continued its strong performance. While the team handled the final challenge well, Alberta coach Jeff Smith said they were tested at times more than their set record shows.
“We were pushed quite a bit. We were pushed by Yukon every time we played them,” Smith said. “We were pushed by Northwest Territories a couple games. I think we were pushed by a lot of people.”
Alberta beat Yukon in three sets, 25-16, 25-21, 25-19. Yukon gave Alberta its biggest scare in the second set, coming out to an early lead. Though they would lose that lead after a several-point run from Alberta, Yukon refused to go away and stuck with Alberta until the final few points.
After allowing Yukon to take several points in a row to storm back Friday, Smith called a timeout and brought his team over to the sideline.
“What I kept saying to the guys is that it doesn’t matter if you’re at an Arctic Games, if you’re at an olympics, if you’re in a pro league if you allow a team to go on five point runs,” Smith said. “These guys understand what it takes. They know that we want to win.”
When asked if any player’s performance on his team had especially stuck player, Smith singled out blocker Elliot Ulland, who had been sporting a black eye since the first day of the tournament when he was caught in the face during hitting warmups.
“I would say (he is) the best blocker that’s here and one of the top players in our province right now,” Smith said.
Ulland said the team’s goal for the tournament had been to not drop a single set.
“A couple teams gave us a run for our money,” Ulland said. “Northwest Territories, we were down five (to) nothing in the first set, and we managed to come back. There were some teams that really surprised us.”
The Alberta North girls also took home the gold ulu in their tournament after defeating Yamal in the gold ulu match Friday evening. Yamal’s girls team had only dropped a single set during the round-robin play, but dropped the first set in the gold match against Alberta Friday.
Yamal would come back to win the next two consecutive sets but gave up the fourth and could not pull the win out in the final tie-breaker set.
Alberta’s boys volleyball team, like many of the other teams at Arctic Winter Games was composed of a number of players who would normally be competing against each other. One play on Alberta’s squad came from a town five hours further north of all the others, and many of the other players were culled from two schools that usually compete as arch rivals.
“You have to focus on breaking down defense mechanisms and breaking down everything right off the bat,” Smith said.
The experience has been beneficial, according to Ulland: “It’s great. We just learn from each other and we all just compete. They’re all great players.”
Team Alaska played in the boy’s volleyball bronze ulu game Friday, narrowly losing to Nunavut in five sets, 25-15, 22-25, 25-23, 14-25, 15-9. With the win, Nunavut took the bronze ulu.
On the girls’ side of the tournament, Alaska took the bronze ulu handily in a game against Northwest Territories, 25-10, 25-9, 25-9. Alberta North’s girls team took the home the gold after defeating Yamal 25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 25-17, 15-8.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.