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Senior boys volleyball back on court at Argyle

October 23, 2017
​Pipers the first senior boys team at a public North Shore school in two decade

By Andy Prest / North Shore News

Markus Bratsberg of the Argyle senior boys volleyball team loads up a jump serve during a match against Sir Charles Tupper Oct. 12. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

The Argyle Pipers senior boys volleyball team is off to a smashing start this season, posting strong results against some of the best teams in the province.

Wait, what?

Anyone who has a passing knowledge of the North Shore high school sports scene will have noticed something odd in that opening sentence, aside from the clichéd  “smashing start” volleyball pun. What’s odd is the presence of any senior boys volleyball team on the North Shore. There used to be a senior boys volleyball league run by the North Shore Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association, but it died out long ago.

According to NSSSAA co-ordinator Gerry Karvelis, the league ran with somewhere between five and seven teams up until the early 1990s when it slowly started to peter out until just one or two teams were left playing in a New West/Burnaby league. By 1998, there were no senior boys teams left on the North Shore, and none have run since except for a few sporadic entries from North Shore private schools like Bodwell and Mulgrave.   

There have been attempts over the years to get senior boys volleyball running again in North Shore schools – it’s a sport played by boys in most other districts around the province – but none have gotten off the ground.

None until now, that is, as this year Argyle is the first North Shore public school to field a team in at least 20 years, and they have a fully stocked roster ready to challenge for a provincial title. “We’re decent,” says head coach Shon Sim. “I’d say we’re probably a top half team once we get to provincials.”

Sim is a well-connected coach on the North Shore who has been working with several other volleyball fanatics for years to try to get the sport back on the court. Sim says his interest in re-booting boys volleyball started almost a decade ago when his son, who is now in Grade 8, was just in preschool. After discovering that there was no North Shore high school league, he connected with other volleyball builders like Mike Rockwell and the late Neil Salkus, and in 2010 helped start a boys program at the North Shore-based BCO Volleyball Club. The BCO boys program had some starts and stops, but is now humming along, and it just so happens that nine of the players who have played with Sim at the club are senior-level students at Argyle this year.  

“It all just kind of lined up where I had enough athletes at one school to run a proper high school team,” said Sim, adding that Argyle vice principal Greg Hockley has been a big help getting the program up and running as the team’s staff sponsor. Two other players have joined the BCO boys to form a roster of 11, and two Argyle Grade 8 students, including Sim’s son Elijah, are along for the ride as practice players.

“This is what I’ve been building towards,” said Sim. And the Pipers might be pretty good. They’re playing an exhibition schedule against teams in the Vancouver league and are active on the tournament scene. At the Douglas College Royal Rumble they finished fifth after losing tough 2-1 matches against both Semiahmoo, last year’s AAA champions, and Earl Marriott, one of the top-ranked teams in the province this season.

“It was eye-opening,” said Sim. “It was like, ‘Hey, we can keep up with the best team in the province and do OK.”

Argyle is led by power hitter Markus Bratsberg, whose sister Jayme plays at Simon Fraser University.

“He’s an all-rounder. He does everything very well,” said Sim. “As a power hitter he’s dominant within this age group, particularly being only five-foot-10.”

The Pipers will get an automatic berth into the Lower Mainland championships as the only North Shore team, and they’ll be aiming for a top-four finish there to book a spot in the provincial tournament.

Before that they’ll have a few more home games, including a 7 p.m. match against Killarney this Monday, and a 6 p.m. game on Thursday as part of a triple header, sandwiched between matches involving the Argyle junior and senior girls teams. They’ve also locked down Nov. 3-4 for a tournament at Argyle.

Beyond all that, Sim said he is hoping that Argyle’s arrival on the scene might get the ball rolling at other schools with the goal of re-booting the North Shore league.

“I would love to see this be sustained,” he said. “We do have enough athletes to run these programs. It’s just a matter of trying to build that.”

As far as the NSSSAA is concerned, if the teams are ready to play, they’ll happily set up a league.

“The NSSSAA will co-ordinate any league as long as there are at least four member schools who want to field a team,” said Karvelis. He added that it can sometimes be a tough sell to get new sports teams started.

“Schools are sometimes reluctant to start a new team or programme because it may negatively affect other already established in-season sports. They want to make sure that if they are going to invest in a new sport that it has to be for the long term – the creation of a true programme.”

For Sim, however, it will be well worth the effort if he can help bring senior boys volleyball back to the North Shore. He’s been coaching for 20 years, and working the high school angle for nearly a decade.

“Even my wife asks me, ‘Why do you still do this?’” he said with a laugh. “(High school volleyball) is probably the most fun you’ll have with a sport because it’s so short and
so intense.”

Sim said he played all through high school and a year of junior varsity at UBC, and he wants other volleyball players to have those same experiences.

“I believe volleyball is the truest team sport out there because it’s one contact and then you have to go support, go to the right spot, figure out where the ball is going,” he said. “You really need to back each other up and support each other. That whole team, team, team aspect of the sport is something that I think parallels life so well. … I want my son to learn a lot of the things that I learned through sports. I think there are a lot of lessons there that are quite valuable.”

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