The St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves have taken the first step in their quest for an elusive senior boys’ high school volleyball championship.
Brebeuf, a power in the sport in the 1980s and ’90s when they captured 11 straight league titles, last were able to add a championship year on their gymnasium volleyball banner in 1997-98.
“It’s been quite a while,” said Ife Igwe, whose all-around outstanding play led the Braves to a 3-0 opening-round playoff victory over the visiting St. Mary Crusaders on Thursday (Oct. 31). The sets were 25-7, 25-14, 25-14.
With the result, the Braves advance to the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association semi-finals. Other quarter-finals saw the second-place Cardinal Newman Cardinals top the seventh-place Bishop Tonnos Titans 3-1 (25-18, 25-20, 24-26, 25-20) and the fifth-place Cathedral Gaels swept the fourth-place ACMT Jaguars 3-0 (25-14, 25-23, 29-27). The third-place Bishop Ryan Celtics edged the sixth-place St. Thomas More Knights 3-2 (22-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-14, 15-12).
“We had a good run last year,” Braves captain Igwe said. “We made it to the championship game but unfortunately we lost (to Cathedral). This year we want to take it. We have a lot of Grade 11s on our team and they play a big role.”
Brebeuf finished the 2013 regular season in first place with a record of 12-2. But they needed a victory over Cardinal Newman (11-3) in the last game of the schedule to end up on top.
As for St. Mary, it went winless in 14 starts. The closest the Crusaders got on Thursday was when server Connor Morris connected for back-to-back aces in the second set to make the score 10-9.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” said St. Mary coach Rachel Hart. “But I love the ways our boys prepared. We took it seriously at practice prepping for Brebeuf. We stepped up and gave them a run.
“Kudos to Brebeuf. They’re an excellent opponent. They deserved the win.”
The Crusaders coach said the Braves feature strong hitters and are able to pass well from the back court. Said Hart: “You can never anticipate where the ball is going to go against them. They are very smart.”
Brebeuf coach Inez Debellis says the Braves look for leadership and consistency from Igwe, a member of the Mountain Athletic Club’s 18-U squad. Last season, Igwe suited up for a Guelph club team which was the No. 1 seed in Ontario and came fourth at the Canadian national championships.
“He’s our strongest player by far,” Debellis said. “Not only on the court but with his sportsmanship. He’s positive every game. And he’s consistently accurate in his skills, especially his front-court skills.”
The other club player on the Brebeuf roster is middle Antony Marijanovic. The rest of the lineup is comprised of Patrick Jensen, Mark Douglin, Marco Anacleto, Max Hajdecki, Justin Ballard, Matt Stanicak, Pommel Calura, Jordon DiPietro and Lucas Ferracuti.
“Every year,” Debellis said, “the Braves play with high skills. But the one thing that sets us apart from other schools is the heart that we play with.”
Brebeuf went undefeated last season en route to winning the HWCAA junior boys’ volleyball crown.
The league semifinals are Wednesday (Nov. 6) – for Cathedral at Brebeuf and Bishop Ryan at Cardinal Newman. The championship goes Friday.