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Volleyball: Talismen stare down three-year winning streak

Van Tech 28-0 before junior provincials
hamber volleyball
Vancouver Technical secondary girls volleyball coach Lewis Chifan with the junior Talismen. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Three years after they’d signed up to play volleyball at Van Tech, the junior Talismen hadn’t lost a game. That’s right: their undefeated streak spanned three seasons and 28 games, including three consecutive Vancouver city championships in Grades 8, 9 and 10.

“The first year we were really surprised,” said team leader and setter Darbyanh Heenan, 15, who had one year experience with Apex club volleyball before playing in high school. “I’m really proud how we did. Everyone has really great qualities and good team spirit. I think that’s how we won cities so many times.  We work together really well.”
Late in their first season, head coach Lewis Chifan realized the team had an unblemished record in their division against the talented pool of East Side teams. They didn’t know what was waiting for them west of Main Street.

“The first time we played a West Side school, the girls on the other team were all taller than us,” said Chifan. “They were huge.” In that first cross-border test, Van Tech beat Eric Hamber in straight sets and cruised to the final, which they also won 3-0.

That’s when Chifan, a youth pastor at the neighbouring Broadway Church, realized the potential of the bantam team.

“We pulled off that first victory against these tall girls and really never looked back. They surprised themselves with how well they played,” he said. “It didn’t really hit until the end of year because although the girls did well, you never really know how to compare it to other Grade 8 girls teams.”

The next year, in the juvenile city league, it was even better. “We swept through playoffs and I found myself saying, ‘We haven’t lost a game in two years,’” said the coach.

Then, this season, the players reached their junior year in Grade 10 and the opposition was only getting tougher, faster and even taller.

“This year I knew it was going to be more difficult. Players continue to develop and play club and I knew the competition was going to be even greater,” said Chifan. “But the same thing happened. The girls kept on winning.”

The number of teams fell off sharply, but Van Tech went 4-0 in the regular season, won a tournament and in three playoff games, didn’t drop a single set.
The expectations were slowly rising, said Heenan. “There was alot of pressure from friends and stuff because they expected us to win every single game,” she said. “We kind of just had to ignore it, really. We just tried to have fun and play the best we can.”

The starting six remained constant: offside hitter Vanessa Kong, Sam Smith and Nadia Navarro in the middle, Jacqueline Richards and Kelly Nguyen in the power spot and Heenan. Also, defensive specialist Amy Nguyen came on as libero, and the players had worked out a seamless rotation they could follow effortlessly.

“It’s amazing with this group of girls because they will just step up and make no mistakes,” said Chifan. “Each game there really was a different person who stepped up and was the all-star of that game. We don’t have one person we look to every game, instead, it can be one of six people who is the person who wins the game for us.”

Last weekend at Seaquam secondary in Delta, the junior Talismen played their first provincial championship. They were the only team from Vancouver.

“It was a lot different. All the teams were very good,” said Heenan.

Van Tech lost four games and finished 16th out of 24 teams.

In their first game, they played Langley Christian, the No. 1 team in the province and eventual B.C. junior champion.

“It was good to be playing the best teams in the province,” said Chifan. “Making it to provincials is an accomplishing and knowing you’re playing all the very best teams from each district is an accomplishment. They were happy to be there representing Vancouver.”

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mstewart@vancourier.com