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Provincial title claimed by all-Native team.

By Paul Barnsley

Windspeaker Staff Writer

EDMONTON

The First Nation Eagles Midget girls' volleyball team earned an all-expense-paid trip to Calgary on May 9 by knocking off a team from Leduc in two straight games at Edmonton's W.P. Wagner Secondary School to win the Alberta provincial championship.

They were scheduled to participate in the Canadian Midget girls volleyball championship tournament in the Stampede city on the May $$ Illegible Word $$ weekend, after $$ Illegible Word $$ publication deadline.

The 15- and 16-year-olds played six matches over a two-day period to earn the title. Each of the matches was a best of three game series. Ten teams participated in the tournament.

The Eagles finished the preliminary round with a 3-1 record, losing only to Lacombe in a three-game match. By finishing first in their pool, the team got a bye on Sunday morning and then played Grande Prairie in the semi final. They disposed of Grande Prairie in two straight games.

That set up the final game against Leduc.

"Leduc went through their side of the draw undefeated. And then they played us," said Eagles coach Chris Hollingworth. "I don't know. The girls, they were in another zone. They played really well. They won 15-12 and then 15-6. They're the first Native team ever to win the Alberta Midget level championships and we're pretty proud of them."

Leduc, a much bigger team, was heavily favored going into the final game. Afterwards, both Hollingworth and volleyball mom Bev Ward remarked on the stunned, almost unbelieving silence that lingered in the Wagner Secondary gym for several seconds after the decisive point was scored.

"Nobody expected us to beat them," said Ward. "But the girls did it."

"You should have heard that crowd," said Hollingworth. "It was dead silent. And then it was, you know, `Oh, my god.' "

Colleen Venne, one of the most accomplished Native women's volleyball players ever, a former University of Saskatchewan Huskie player who's now an assistant coach with the Canadian Women's Junior National team, was watching from the stands when the Eagles grabbed their share of Alberta sports history.

"I was quite proud of them," Venne said. "I haven't ever seen a Native team compete at this level."

Venne has watched the players progress over a period of several years. She said the championship was the result of talented players putting in a lot of hard work with very dedicated coaches.

Hollingworth, who assisted coach Tim Margetts this season, has coached many of the players for more than five years. He's seen them make a huge amount of progress as individuals and as a team. That progress was made in spite of racist remarks directed at the players by opposition players and fans. Hollingworth said the players used the anger created by those remarks as a motivator.

"We really talked a lot this year about character and reputation," he said. "I remember talking to Kaylin [Buffalo] just before the tournament and she said, `If we lose, people are going to say, `Indians can play but they can't win.' But if we win, then they're going to think Indians can win. So we're going to win.' "

If the win in the provincial final was a shock, it would be mild in comparison to a win in Calgary. Big city teams didn't participate in the provincial tourney, but the national championship tourney is an open competition. The team, whose players all come from the tiny reserve communities of Samson or Enoch, would have had to defeat teams from Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and other big, populous urban centres to claim national bragging rights. Hollingworth said it will take a gargantuan effort to accomplish that feat. He said it was remarkable enough for a team from a small reserve community to knock off a team from a mediumsize municipality like Leduc.

"If we played a big city team, we'd stay with them. I'm not saying we'd beat them, but we'd play with them. These girls are that good. But it was a big deal for us to beat Leduc or Fort MacMurray or St. Albert. I mean, everyone was asking `Where's Samson? Where's Enoch? Where are these places?' " he said.

Enoch is located near Edmonton; Samson is 80 km to the south. The team is made up of four Enoch Cree Nation and seven Samson Cree Nation members.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:723
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