Representing the south-central zone in the ASAA 3A volleyball provincials was the icing on the cake for the highly-charged seasons of Cochrane High's senior girls and boys volleyball teams.
The enthusiasm, dedication, and determination of players and coaches on both teams made them a threat to their opponents every single time they stepped on the court.
The Cobras senior girls team won silver in a final that came down to the wire against the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic High School of Spruce Grove, the only team beating them in the tournament.
The boys' team lost to Ecole McTavish, of Fort McMurray, in the round-robin and Magrath Jr./Sr. High in the first round of playoffs. Both those teams went on to the gold medal final with Magrath coming out on top.
Cochrane High girls volleyball head coach Esther Sieben says a little bad luck prevented the Cobras from winning the provincial championship.
After losing the first set of the final 25-22, Sieben says they made adjustments that lead to a 25-15 win in the second set.
The Cobras were up 15-14 in the rubber match, but an injury to a key player turned the tables. St. Peter won 17-15.
"We served well, we played defense well, and we hit well. As far as the girls are concerned, there isn't anything we should have done differently. We were just unlucky with an injury when we were ahead 15-14."
It was their second injury of the playoffs after another Cobra went down in the semifinals.
Sieben believes the loss will make returning players even hungrier to win the provincial banner next season. She says they just played a championship final they won't soon forget.
"I'm so proud of this group of girls on the off the court. These guys aren't just good volleyball players, they're good human beings, and they have heart."
"Their grit, their maturity, their resiliency, their perseverance, and their determination are all the kind of things you want a group of girls to have, and they had it. It didn't matter who I put out on the court because I didn't have a starting six, I had more like a starting 10."
Coming into the season, Cobras boys head coach Dan Hasiuk says he didn't know what to expect. They were simply glad to have a season after only training the season previous.
Soon, though, the wins started piling up, and by the end of Rocky View divisional play, they had only lost one set. They went on to beat Springbank in the finals for both the divisional and zone championships.
"This year, I had one of those teams where there was no one person that stood out," says Hasiuk. "It was a balanced team of skilled players."
That made it difficult for other teams.
"I'd hate to be the coach that's scouting us, because how can you key on somebody when everyone's a threat?"
He says the team played well in the provincials, noting it was bitter-sweet for their grade 12 players.
He believes the Cobras had Magrath worried in their playoff match-up.
The Cobras were up 23-21 in the first set, but a rare carrying call against the Cobras shifted the momentum. Magrath went on to a 25-23 win. The Cobras lost the second set, 25-15.
He calls Magrath a great team that won fair and square.
"They had a really strong power hitter that we struggled to shut down. He could hit a line, he could hit cross-court. It was tough to nail down where our defense should be. He was just a clever hitter. They had a gifted setter as well, so kudos to them."
This is the second consecutive season the senior boys advanced to the provincials.
Hasiuk became the Cobras head coach in 2019 after his family returned to Canada from Saudi Arabia. He believes of the two teams, this year's was a more dominant force.
They carried a roster of 11 that included several grade 10 athletes. He added younger players to the rotation during the regular season to give them valuable experience.
He says all the players were extremely committed. Even if he offered them a day of rest before a tournament, they insisted on hitting the gym.
Hasiuk believes seeds have been planted for next season and that the entire boys' program benefitted from integrating the practices of the senior and junior boys teams.
"Several of them will know what to expect next year."
None of this would have been possible without the many who worked behind the scenes. From ASAA officials to tournament organizers, right down to the volunteers at the door, it took a lot of extra work by many to make the season possible during the pandemic.
The coaches, players, and fans give thanks to all those who made the season possible.