Jr. spikers cap season by striking gold

Jamie Mountain

A season’s worth of hard work, and good execution when it mattered, culminated into NorWOSSA gold for the Muskie junior girls’ volleyball team Friday afternoon in Dryden.
The black-and-gold swept the host Eagles in straight sets (25-19, 25-15, and 21-19) in the best-of-five final to cap their impressive 7-1 regular-season record with a league title.
Fort High had earned the bye to the final by virtue of their first-place finish.
“Personally, it was a very gratifying win,” enthused Muskie head coach Bob Kowal.
“As far as the finals go, we knew what to expect from Dryden,” he noted. “We knew they would run the middle a lot and if we could minimize their effectiveness in that area, we would have a great opportunity to be successful–and we did.
“Our goals were to be assertive, play determined, and execute both defensively and offensively,” he added.
“I think the kids did an excellent job of doing so.”
Kowal also noted three of his squad’s starters were battling illnesses in the final.
“But they persevered despite not being in tip-top shape,” he lauded.
Kowal also was happy with how the team meshed with each other this season, especially down the stretch.
“To be honest with you, the team really gelled in the last month of the season,” he remarked.
“They started to trust each other and began to value what each player brings to the group.
“We always had the skill, in my opinion, to be NorWOSSA champions,” Kowal admitted. “But it took a while for the team to really come together to be the team they were in the final on Friday.
“Our Grade 10 leadership, with Jamie Spencer and the emotional leader, Katrina Slomke, had a big part in the success on Friday,” he lauded.
“They didn’t overpower the Eagles but played smart volleyball the whole game.
“From the Grade 9s, I felt Aurora Hutton and Grace Kowal played important roles for the team,” he added.
“Aurora attacked and served the ball very well in the final while [Grace] Kowal found the right hitters, at the right time, in the match for them to be successful.”
What would Kowal like to see continue with next year’s junior team?
“We will have eight returning players from this year’s team,” he remarked. “Also, we have the NorWOSSA ‘B’ team players who will be pushing for positions on next year’s team, as well.
“I would like to see the athletes coming to FFHS next year and our plan, with [senior] coach Duane Roen and coach Terry McMahon, will be to have a short camp to identify kids interested in playing volleyball for the Muskies in the month of May,” Kowal previewed.
“I am really excited about the team moving forward,” he enthused. “I think we’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year, as well.
“I would also like to see the players moving up to senior next year make the commitment to improve their skills and personal fitness to take that next step to becoming OFSAA participants,” Kowal added.
“Coach Roen and I will definitely support each other [the] next couple of years, as we really would like to see our students have the opportunity to play in an OFSAA championship.”
The Muskie seniors, meanwhile, fell in straight sets (22-25, 22-25, and 15-25) to the Kenora Broncos in their final later Friday to settle for silver.
The black-and-gold had earned the bye to the final after finishing the regular season in first place with a 6-2 record.
Muskie coach Duane Roen felt as though the squad fell away from what had made it successful earlier this season.
“We did the opposite of what we had been practising,” he admitted.
“We did not capitalize on opportunities but instead allowed Kenora [too] many opportunities to score against us.
“Kenora was aggressive and we played soft for too much of each set,” Roen conceded. “As the stress and anxiety built in several players, their muscles tensed up and it affected their passing and offensive decision-making.”
“Kenora did a great job of keeping us out of [our] system for most of each set,” he added.
“When we did have opportunities, we either played soft or had an unforced error, or Kenora dug the ball up and scored against us.
“Our serving was very inconsistent and certainly interfered with our ability to control the tempo of each set,” Roen said.
“Almost everything we talked about that could happen did, causing our 3-0 match loss–which was our worst result against Kenora all year.”
Although it was a disappointing end to such a promising season, Roen lauded his key players for their hard work.
“My two captains, Pasquel Shortreed [middle], and Alina Eldridge [setter], did a great job all year as team leaders,” he enthused.
“They set the bar for others to strive for–both in physical ability and mental acuity.
“Both Alina and Pasquel played and practised through injury and sickness, never missing a match, [which is] a tribute to their dedication to the team and their passion for the game,” he added.
Looking ahead, Roen believes he will have to make some tough decisions on who makes the squad next season.
“I think the future is bright with so much potential moving up and filling in some of the gaps that the senior team had this year,” he remarked.
“Hopefully, the senior players will take my advice and physically train and attend at least one volleyball camp in the off-season so they are better prepared for tryouts in the fall.
“Having more options next fall will allow the coach more flexibility and increase the options available for all aspects of the game,” he reasoned.