By: Marty Hastings in High School, Sports, Volleyball December 7, 2015 

Wai Ma stood back and watched the celebration unfold, the culmination of years of hard work paying off in one championship moment.

"Tears of joy, the celebration was fantastic", Ma said. "They were out in the middle of the court jumping on each other. I let them enjoy the moment, then we embraced."

The Sa-Hali Sabres earned a four-set victory over Brooks secondary of Powell River to claim the B.C. High School Girls AAA Volleyball Championship in Vernon on Saturday.

Linnea Brickwood, Caet McCorkell, Amy Dahl, Katie Ludvig, Kate Wale, Kara Brink, Katie Dobrovolny, Sawyer Hawgood, Brenna Worsfold, MaKenna Cleveland and Maria Pratt made school history, becoming the first team from Sa-Hali to win a provincial AAA girls' volleyball title.

"I have no words to describe how amazing it feels and how much I love the team," said Sabres' co-captain Cleveland, a Grade 12 student who won provincial gold in her last kick at the can.

"They've really become family to me and, knowing we were the first ones to be able to do it, that means a lot."

Sa-Hali entered the tourney as the No. 3 seed and steamrolled its way to the final, earning straight-set victories over Timberline of Campbell River, Hugh McRoberts of Richmond and Caledonia of Terrace before disposing of Brooks in four sets 25-15, 22-25, 25-17, 25-19 , in the title tilt.

The Sabres avoided Prince George high schools Duchess Park and College Heights, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, as they suffered upset defeats and bowed out of gold-medal contention early.

Perhaps the most unsettling moment of the weekend occurred in a hotel room before the championship game.

"There's one person [McCorkell] on our team that says she needs to eat a lemon poppyseed muffin before every single game and she couldn't find the one she put in the cooler for before the final," Cleveland said with a laugh.

"She made her parents go out and buy a muffin. Who knows what would have happened without the muffin."

Baked goods likely had much less to do with victory than the tireless work put in by the girls over a three-year span.

Most of the players have logged hundreds of hours of extra morning practise, arriving at the gym at 7:15 a.m. from September to December to work with Ma, who has coached at the high-school, university, club and provincial levels.

"This was their moment," Ma said. "I"ve been working with these girls since Grade 9 so, from a developmental point of view, it's been fantastic to see them grow."

Ma, who usually coaches the junior team at Sa-Hali, stayed with this crop of students as they made the jump to the senior ranks, along with assistant coaches Peter Wright and Ken Kobayashi.

"Mr. Ma is an amazing coach," Cleveland said. "He pushes us to be our best. Sometimes, he's hard on us, but that's what we need."

Friends, family and students from both Sa-Hali and rival Kamloops schools were rooting for the Sabres at Vernon secondary on Saturday, while others watched at home on a live Internet feed.

The senior boys' Sabres soccer team, which won silver at provincials in November, stormed the court, along with other Sa-Hali supporters, when the final rally ended.

"I remember the ball going over the net and we blocked them," Cleveland said. "After that, everything was so surreal, just the cheering and the fans. It was a good feeling."

A repeat title in 2016 is not out of the question, with the team's Grade 11 core, Ludvig, McCorkell, Brink, Hawgood and Pratt expected to return next season, along with Brickwood, a Grade 10 setter.

That's a long way off, though.

The Sabres will enjoy a banner-raising assembly in front of their peers this week, capping what's been a special few months in Sa-Hali sports.

"I think what I"ll remember most is just how close everyone was, how in between games we'd put corn rows in each other's hair, just the small things that made us come together as a team," Cleveland said.

"We all worked so hard to get here, everybody played their part and actually having it happen is something I don't think we'll ever forget."

Extra accolades

Ludvig was named tournament MVP, Hawgood was named best libero, Cleveland was a first-team all-star and McCorkell and Brickwood were second-team all stars.

Wai Ma and Sahali Sabres Volleball Team