After a runner-up finish in 2016, the Saint Mark Lady Lions, led by returning players Sophia Athan, Efthymia Copulos, Christina Simitses, and Katerina Spiliopoulos, came to the 2018 Winter Youth Rally determined to “finish the job” this time around. With the addition of three new players, Ioanna Copulos, Daniella Oatmeyer and Emily Stringer, the Lady Lions would prove to do just that!
The brackets were set with Saint Mark slated to open fittingly competition against Winston-Salem (the same team that beat Saint Mark in the 2016 finals). The match got off to a rough start for Saint Mark, as Winston-Salem took the first set, powered by a large and raucous crowd cheering them on. However, the Lady Lions were able to rally, winning the next two sets and thereby securing their position in the Winners bracket.
On the second and final day of the tournament, we were faced with Winston-Salem’s second team. After another slow start, Ioanna Copulos and Daniella Oatmeyer took charge with a combination of 10 assists and kills to pull us ahead in the first game of the match. In the second game, Sophia Athan and Emily Stringer each had service runs of five points to win out the match and send the Lady Lions to the finals.
The Championship game featured a rematch against the senior Winston-Salem team from the opening round. However, this time around there would be no slow start as the Lions set the tone early with their aggressive play. Truly a team effort, each player on this team saved their best performance for the final match. Their play on the court was coupled with the added support of the full complement of Boca Raton GOYANs and chaperones cheering them on. By this point in the weekend our three other teams from Saint Mark (both boys basketball teams, and our junior girls volleyball team) had finished their schedule of games and were able for the first time to come and watch our girls play. Now with the crowd working in our advantage for the first time, we were able to cruise to our first ever championship in straight sets (25-17, 25-15)! To make the win even sweeter, it marked the unseating a legitimate dynasty, as Winston-Salem’s senior team has won this tournament 27 times in the past 30 years. Congratulations to St. Mark Lady Lions Black, winners of the 2018 Winter Youth Rally Volleyball Championship!
During the Christmas break, nine GOYANs from Saint Mark participated in the annual Metropolis of Atlanta Winter Youth Rally. The event consists of basketball, volleyball, and Bible bowl tournaments, held in Atlanta, Georgia. This marked only the second year that a team from Saint Mark participated in the four-day event, and we were eager to improve upon last year’s performance.
After a 4-2 record and a Final Four appearance in 2016, Saint Mark was able to field a basketball team consisting of five returning players, and three new ones. The team began preparing for the tournament in September, practicing for hours after Church every Sunday. All of the hard work that we put in, and our extensive preparation with Coach Fr. Steven during those Fall months would end up leading us to unbelievable success in the Winter.
The team’s first win came in a tough test was against a Greenville team that we eliminated the year before in Overtime. Saint Mark made quick work in that opening game with a fifteen point win, and advanced to play the tournament hosts, Atlanta. Supported by an enthusiastic local crowd, Saint Mark had to endure both the screaming fans as well as a strong Atlanta team (that made the finals last year) in a hard fought, double-overtime game! The Atlanta fans were so impressed with our character, they gave our team the nickname of “Classy Boca” due to the respect and sportsmanship we demonstrated!
The next day, our team faced Marietta in another tightly contested game that ended with a 44-43 Boca victory on the back of an incredible three-point shot by Alex Leondis that sent us to the finals as time expired! The championship game was a rematch against that same hungry Marietta team that fought back to make it to the finals as well. Fortunately, our faith and determination guided our team and allowed Saint Mark to persevere to win our first ever WYR basketball tournament with a perfect 4-0 record!
Off of the court, the team from Saint Mark came together to earn a third place finish in the Bible bowl tournament as well! This was no small accomplishment considering we were one of 42 teams in the competition with questions ranging from the Old Testament to the Gospel of Saint Mark. Throughout the four-day event, our team never forgot the teachings of our parents and priests. We were honored to represent Saint Mark, and act as stewards of our Orthodox faith.