Danforth’s co-ed volleyball team had to dig extra deep for their May 1 win over North Toronto.
The game went a full five sets after Danforth, facing a loss, pushed back with a series of deep-court spikes.
“We started off slow, but we managed to pull through,” said Limay Hu, a Grade 11 student and one of two captains on the co-ed team.
Hu’s colleague Andy Phan agreed.
“Our serve reception was a problem, but the last two sets we picked it up,” he said.
Judging by the close game on May 1, Phan said North Toronto will be among the teams to beat in the playoffs later this month, along with Lawrence Park and Western Tech.
Danforth has a lot on the line.
Hanging above the Redhawk’s home court is a solid row of volleyball banners – the co-ed team has won the city championships for four years straight.
Coach Mark Graul said they hope to make that five.
“They’re fast, and we work a lot with fundamentals,” said Graul. “They know the game.”
That kind of experience doesn’t come without a lot of work.
Now in his senior year, Phan joined the team in Grade 9 but was benched two years before he got a starting position.
That’s pretty standard, said Phan, noting that the Redhawks set a high bar.
The team practices four times a week from February to May, said Hu, noting that Graul commutes all the way from St. Catharines to be there.
“He trains us like a club team,” she said. “Even though we may not have that level of experience, that’s the attitude he wants.”
But Phan, who has played club volleyball, said unlike a club coach, Graul doesn’t spend much practice time drilling solo skills.
“Here it’s more team-orientated,” he said. “His style of coaching is more like, ‘Do it together, and learn on your own.’”
Strong team play is especially key in co-ed volleyball, where at least one girl or boy player has to touch the ball before it goes over the net.
Boys also have to stay three metres back from the net and avoid jump serves, so teams do best if they can set up strong passing plays in the mid-court.
“It’s really dynamic,” said Graul. “Everybody’s got to play.”
Like most players, Hu also plays on a non co-ed team. She said doing well in co-ed means relying a lot more on everyone around you.
“It’s more of a family,” she said.