A trio of Prince Albert Optimist Toppers female volleyball teams returned home with medals from the Jordan Zacharias Memorial Volleyball Classic in Saskatoon over the weekend.
The tournament featured 52 teams from across the province competing in 16U and 17U divisions, dedicated to the memory of Jordan Zacharias of Waldheim, a passionate volleyball player who after a two-year battle, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011 at 17 years old.
“As a way to heal the community and celebrate her life, Jordan’s club and her family wanted to do something special so they worked with us to create the event,” explained Sask Volleyball executive director Aaron Demyen of the tournament’s inception last year.
Demyen said the second annual tournament which attracted 1,800 spectators to the Henk Ruys Centre in Saskatoon on Jan. 25 and 26, transcends the sport itself.
“The whole weekend is about volleyball but it’s also about doing things for other people and raising awareness for difference causes,” Demyen said. “It’s a great thing to be involved with.”
Demyen estimated the tournament raised roughly $5,000 apiece for both the Children’s Wish Foundation and Beads of Courage charity, which involved athlete participation.
Athletes purchased and wore beads throughout the tournament that they sent along with a “story card” to children battling illness to help them cope with their ailment while reminding them of the caring community supporting them.
“It’s really meaningful to the Zacharias family because Jordan went through a really hard time before she passed away,” Demyen said of U.S.-based Beads of Courage. “It was just another way we can spread the idea that sport is great for the individual participating but that you can also use sport to benefit others.”
Teams participating in the tournament were initially divided into pools of up to four teams. Based on their performance in their assigned pool, teams were subsequently divided into tiers.
The Optimist Toppers fielded three teams, the “Esprit” in Tier 4 and the “En Fuego” in the top Tier 1. In the 17U division, “Peligro” represented the Toppers in Tier 3, falling to the Muenster AVC Storm 25-18, 7-25, 15-10 in the final game.
While their 16U counterpart defeated the Carrot River Volleyball Club 25-22, 25-21 in the Tier 4 final, the higher tiered “El Fuego” Toppers fell to a strong Manitoba Bisons team 16-25, 25-19, 15-13 in the Tier 1 final.
“They (Prince Albert) jumped out to a really big lead,” Demyen said of En Fuego’s performance in the final game. “They played really well in the first set and then they started making a few errors in the next set and Manitoba capitalized.”
En Fuego defeated Nipawin Team Clark, QCVC Royal and Wakaw in the playoffs en route to the close final.
“The third set was very tight,” Demyen said. “It was really close right to the very end and it basically came down to one point.”
With teams from across the province participating, Demyen said the tournament demonstrated the fantastic growth of the sport in Saskatchewan.
“We are such a rural-based sport where we have close to 70 different communities running club programs,” he said. “It’s so much more than the Regina’s, Saskatoon’s and Prince Albert’s. I think it’s of interest to the public knowing the sport is right across the province and is open to anybody to participate.”
Its population being only a fraction than that of Regina and Saskatoon, Demyen added, “Prince Albert is huge,” when asked what he’s seen out of P.A. in terms of volleyball.
“There are a huge number of teams that come out of Prince Albert comparable to teams in Regina and Saskatoon which tells you a lot about the interest coming out of P.A.,” he said. “They run really good, deep programs and have teams that compete for championships but they also make sure everyone gets a chance to play. It’s a great to see a community like that totally embrace and promote the sport.”
16U Women Final Standings
1st -- Manitoba Junior Bisons
2nd -- Prince Albert Optimist Toppers En Fuego
3rd -- Regina Cougars Volleyball Club
4th -- Wakaw Warriors
5th -- Rouleau Panthers
6th -- QCVC Royal
7th -- Yorkton Blitz
8th – Edam Prairie Storm
1st -- Saskatoon JCVC Big Red
2nd -- Rose Valley VC
3rd -- Swift Current Junior Sundogs
4th -- Nipawin Team Clark
5th -- Waldheim Raiders United
6th -- Lumsden Rage
7th -- Battlefords VC Force
8th -- Martensville Outerlimits
1st -- Moose Jaw Element Panthers
2nd -- Saskatoon Connex VC
3rd -- Regina Volleyball Club Gold
4th -- Cut Knife WVC Clash
5th -- Saskatoon Attack
6th -- Imperial Scorpions
7th -- Regina Volleyball Club Green
8th -- Regina QCVC Black
1st -- Prince Albert Optimist Toppers Esprit
2nd -- Carrot River VC
3rd -- Warman VC
4th -- Kelvington Pipestone Crocs
5th -- Lloydminster VC Sirens
6th -- Regina QCVC Purple
Complete 17U results were unavailable. More information about the tournament can be found at www.saskvolleyball.ca.