Grand Falls-Windsor -
The numbers - all of them - are perpetually stacked against the South West Arm Academy Tigers, who represented the Eastern region in male volleyball at the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games in Grand Falls-Windsor.
Thirteen of the Academy's 15 male high school students (the Little Heart's Ease institution has just over 100 students from kindergarten to Grade 12) play for the school's senior team, living the legacy of Tigers' volleyball.
However, coach Roman Peddle, an alumnus of the school and former Tigers volleyballer, didn't come to Grand Falls-Windsor with his full senior roster. Games volleyball is a Grade 10 tourney and Peddle has only two players - Zachary Peddle and captain Cole Avery-Marsh - from that level.
So for the Games, Grade 9's Christopher Whelan, Taylor Smith, Patrick Churchill, and Grade 6 Tigers' Brandon Peddle, Brandon Vardy, Garrett Smith, Jager Cooper, Philip Snook, Zachary Drodge make up the rest of the side.
"On average, at most tournaments, we're probably the youngest (team)," said Peddle, who is in his fourth year as the Tigers' coach.
And they are almost always the shortest.
"The one thing we've struggled with a little bit is our blocking due to the fact some of us can only get our hand over the net," he joked.
But for what they lack in age and vertical limitations, the Tigers make up for it with solid defence, hustle and heart.
"Defence is what we work on and that's what wins us championships. In practice, we'll be hitting the ball with no blocks and just trying our best to dig," noted Peddle.
At a 4A tournament this year, the South West Arm senior squad found itself in a championship game against rival Clarenville High, a team which had bested the Tigers in 10 straight encounters over the previous three years.
Down 14-9 in the third and deciding set, the Tigers rallied for a 16-14 win and the tournament title.
Such comebacks appear to be commonplace for South West Arm.
On Tuesday, trailing 14-9 in the third set of the Winter Games bronze-medal game against the Central region's Gander Collegiate Concordes, the Tigers rebounded again, eventually winning 28-26 in an extended match.
"Now that's heart," a jubilant Peddle said as his charges celebrated their latest triumph.
Tuesday's game was also a measure of both the dedication and experience of players from a school where volleyball is king.
"Sometimes having a small school really helps because they know each other, they're really close. These are their buddies, that's who they're with 10 to 15 hours a day," said Peddle, who is working towards a physical education degree at Memorial University, meaning he only makes practice twice a week. Otherwise, the players run their own workouts, with the assistance of teacher/sponsor and assistant coach Jamie Jewers, a volleyball newbie.
"We wouldn't be able to do any of this without her," Peddle emphasized.
Once they reach junior high and because the elementary ranks only produce so many athletes, South West Arm volleyballers are quickly seasoned on the court.
"When you hit Grade 6, you're playing against boys in Grade 9," said Peddle. "When you hit Grade 8, you're playing against people in Grade 12.
"By the time these Grade 6's get two years on them, they're playing in Grade 10 tournaments and it seems like they're at a level where some of the Grade 10s could be."
Avery-Marsh sees it.
"Starting off young, you're really intimidated, but the more you play with your team, the more comfortable you're going to feel. And when you play with players at your own age and skill level, you find the guys who are older are not there with you," Avery-Marsh, a vocal team leader, asserted.
The Tigers aren't winning everything in sight. They settled for a semifinal appearance at Volleyfest and a bronze medal at the provincial under-18A championship. But as they say, winning isn't everything.
"Learning how to lose is a very important thing as a player," Avery-Marsh explains.
"It prepares you at an older age. The more you learn how to lose, the better winner you are."