TORONTO, ON: You know it is very, very special when a team assembles for a championship team picture and two hands are not enough to indicate consecutive titles won. The Hawks team figured it out early enough, flashing an index finger on each hand to show a current run of eleven consecutive OCAA championship wins.
On Saturday night at Centennial College in Toronto, the Humber Hawks won number eleven by way of a 3-0 (25-22, 25-7, 25-20) win over an outstanding Niagara Knights team.
The route to the final was a challenging one for both teams, and the toughest path the Hawks have ever had to take in a championship season. Both teams came from two sets down in their quarter-final matches to win in five, sparing themselves a trip to the consolation pool. Niagara then went through Sheridan 3-0 to punch their ticket to the final, while the bronze medal winning St. Clair Saints pushed the Humber squad to the limit before Humber prevailed in four sets.
When the dust settled in the gold medal game, the scoreboard may have read a three set sweep for the Hawks, but with the exception of the second set, the games were true battles.
Humber and Niagara both came to play early, with both teams striking back and forth like a boxing match. One team would make a statement, and the other would answer. There was no clear winner until the set got into the early twenties. Tough serving for Humber came into play then, and that was the difference in the 25-22 win.
If anyone questioned Humber's ability to deliver a dominant blow, it was clearly on display in the second set. I am not sure Humber has ever won a championship match set by such a margin, that being 25-7. In fact, of the seven points the Knights got, four were by Hawk serving errors. Everything was on point in this set. Amazing defence set the tone, including great passing, digs and blocks that pulled the Humber faithful out of their seats. There was not a bigger indicator of their fine play then when setter Alex Bartman almost ran into the crowd to send a cross court bump pass, facing away from the court, to Breanna Golding to deliver a thunderous kill. Give full credit to the Hawks in this set, well earned.
Take a bow Niagara, for not just mailing in the third set after tough second set loss. Although Humber ran out to an early lead, it was the Knights who continuously fought back and eventually held a 17-14 lead. Cue the Hawks comeback. Before you knew it, Humber had run off seven straight points to take an insurmountable 21-17 lead. As the teams exchanged points, it was evident that the end was near. The final point itself was simply spectacular, as setter Alex Bartman and middle Niicole Collard blocked a ball straight down to seal the set and match.
For her efforts in the match, Bartman was selected as the Humber Player of the Game.
In what was an emotional roller-coaster tournament for the Humber team, it was just as emotional for the Humber coaching staff.
"This was really special, winning the way we did, fighting the way we did", said Hawks head coach Chris Wilkins. "The teams we played are outstanding, and we had to battle every step of the way".
POST TOURNNAMENT AWARDS
Three Hawks were given individual recognition at the end of the championship. Libero Kyla Wilkins and middle Nicole Collard were tapped as championship All-Stars. Breanna Golding, who engineered the huge comeback in the first game and led the Hawks in scoring in the event was named the Most Valuable Player.
DO THE MATH
Humber has now won 152 straight OCAA regular season and playoff wins. With the new format, they went 22-0 this year, unlike the traditional 21-0 they have experienced over the past number of years.
Humber, the number three ranked team in the country, will advance to the CCAA National Championships in Grand Prairie in two weeks.