Dalriada girls have won the Under 16 Volleyball League title again after a tournament consisting of the top four regional winners in the province. The girls emerged victorious as Northern Ireland Champions again after several magnificent performances on Friday 3rd March 2017, meaning that they can pursue the All-Ireland Title again.
The four highest placed qualifiers from their respective regions were Dalriada A, Portadown College, Markethill High School and the younger Dalriada B team from Year 11 were also in the mix. The first semi-final was between Dalriada A and a strong Portadown College side packed with club and international experience. The early phase of the game was very close and it was clear that both sets of players were quite nervous and there were great plays between the Portadown Captain Amber Reid and attacker Aimee Gale. However after a run of serves from Dalriada Captain, Mary Parkash, the Ballymoney School finally settled and exerted control winning the first set 25-18. In the next set Portadown College could not quite find their rhythm and excellent setting from Sarah Hadden and attack play from Milenka Rygelska gave the Co. Armagh girls little chance of finding their way back with the second set and the match closing out 25-7 to Dalriada.
The Year 11 team at Dalriada, excellently captained by Julie-Anne Wilson, has developed in strength over the past couple of months in training and matches. However, they were dealt a devastating blow on the morning of the tournament when Middle Blocker, Olivia Baker sustained a serious injury to her knee during the warm-up. The young side went on to what proved to be the match of the day against Markethill High in their semi-final. In the first set Markethill led most of the way to have the set snatched off them 25-23 by excellent combination plays from Northern Ireland Development players Jenny Stevenson and Ellen Gilmour. In the second set the match was very evenly balanced with good attack plays from Dalriada matched by Keri Stoops who was excellent in the Markethill defence. However, the Dalriada girls won the second set a nail-biting 29-27 to set up an all Dalriada final.
The third-fourth playoff saw a very close match between Markethill and Portadown College with the Portadown girls just about winning by two clear points in a very close match.
Dalriada A team dominated the first set of the final from the start and the sharp defensive skills of Elle Kirgan was enough to curb a late run of points from the younger players. The second set proved to be a very tense affair and the older team became complacent and almost had the match sealed but the combination of Stevenson and Gilmour were causing all sorts of problems for the older girls. This essentially let the Year 11 girls into the match as they deservedly took the second set 25 points to 23. The Head coach of the Year 12 team, Dr Ian Walker, urged his girls to focus and give their all over the course of the deciding set and that is just what they did, wining it convincingly by 8 clear points. The Coach of the Year 11 Dalriada Girls team, Miss McCook was elated with their performance all day, given the fact that one of their team mates had to be stretchered off the court in immense pain.
The girls have always had their sights set on All-Ireland Volleyball and in particular they want to emulate the performance of the Year 12 squad from last year when Dalriada won the All-Ireland Title for the first time in five years. In order to do this they will have to overcome tough southern opponents Colaiste Mhuire, from Co. Clare, in what is sure to be an epic battle.