Junior spikers encouraged by strong start

Dan Falloon

The Muskie junior boys’ volleyball team has been loud out on the court so far this NorWOSSA season.
From their light-hearted cheers between sets drawing snickers from their opponents to the focused in-game commands, the black-and-gold have been making themselves heard while in uniform.
Coach John Gibson has been pleased with his team’s 3-1 start, and hailed the players’ interaction as being a major factor in the charge.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen is with the communication between the players on the court,” he lauded.
“They’re talking a lot more,” he noted. “They’re having more fun, and that was really evident in Thursday’s match against Kenora.
“Being ahead and winning helps, but at the same time, just to see how much they’re getting together and talking and supporting each other, compared to [last] Tuesday in the losing cause, was a really nice turnaround to see,” Gibson added.
The Muskies split their matches last week as they hit the midpoint of the eight-game regular season—falling in three sets to Dryden by scores of 27-25, 25-19 and 25-23 here Tuesday (Oct. 5).
But they responded Thursday (Oct. 7) with a sweep of their own, brushing aside the visiting Broncos 25-23, 25-17, and 25-15.
Gibson said the loss to Dryden was a little hard to take given Fort High already had clipped the Eagles on the road. But the squad failed to replicate that effort last week.
“It was frustrating, disappointing, because we have beat them before,” Gibson noted.
“We can beat them, but we just did not play near the game we know we can.
“That’s tough, but I would rather choke it down early in the year like this than at the end of the year in the playoffs,” he reasoned.
In particular, Gibson has been impressed with his team’s play down the middle on both sides of the ball.
“I’m really impressed with our middles this year,” he enthused. “Caleb McIntosh and Will Anderson have really impressed me.
“We’re very strong both middle offensively and defensively.”
Gibson has been impressed with how his players have been able to turn around balls that are closer to being lost causes than not, but being able to slow down the ball through a block has helped keep those hits in play.
“We’ve had a few of those where guys have been able to get balls back up and keep them in play, where you think that they would be getting down,” he noted.
“A lot of those have been coming when we’ve been getting touches on the block, and then even if the ball’s not blocked completely but just slowed down a little bit.
“A lot of them, once they’re touched at the block, we’re able to get them back up.
“The odd time they get away with an open hit, and we don’t have anyone there to block or they’re a little bit late,” Gibson admitted.
“We’ve still managed to get a couple of those big hits up, as well,” he added.
Gibson hopes that as the season progresses, the players will be able to figure out where to be in order to put themselves into the right places for such stops.
“Their positioning is becoming better, and as we get further in the season and they’re able to read the hitters even more, they’re going to put themselves in those kinds of scenarios where they can get those balls back up even if the block isn’t there,” he remarked.
Another area Gibson hopes to develop is the ability to run a fast attack in order to catch opponents off guard.
“Our offence—we do want to speed that up quite a bit,” he stressed.
“We saw a glimmer of that on Thursday,” he said. “We had one quick that we ran in the middle that was very fast.
“We want to do that, and if we can speed up our middle offence and we get the defensive blocker to commit, then that opens up our outside hitters to go one-on-one and gives them more opportunities for kills.”
Gibson pointed to the Muskie senior team for guidance, observing in their offence what he’d like to apply in his.
“There was one really big hit by Justin [Anderson] that [Brandon] McGinnis ran the middle fake,” he recalled.
“Just because they’re able to run that quick middle, he’s one-on-one outside and [there’s] a faster set out there.
“You can have fun and really get some big kills that way,” Gibson concluded.
Gibson also plans to continue to eradicate “unforced errors” from Fort High’ game, such as serves hit into the net or out of play.
Such scenarios have been a little more commonplace on Gibson’s team than in recent years as he switched things up to head the juniors after coaching the senior squad for the last several campaigns.
With senior players being more polished, Gibson has had to take a little bit of a different focus with his junior crew early in the year.
“It’s a lot different in the sense of where you’re starting from,” he observed.
“Having worked with the seniors for the last few years, we had great talent coming up in terms of fundamentals, so it was more working on offensive strategies and gameplay and playing at a higher level,” he explained.
“With the juniors, it’s more going back and going over fundamentals and working with the basics, and trying to evolve that first.”
The black-and-gold kicked off the second half of the regular season today (Oct. 13) in Dryden, but then will not play their sixth match until Oct. 26 in Kenora.
However, the juniors are slated to visit Dryden on Oct. 22-23 for a tournament, and also will attend one in Winnipeg the following weekend.
“It’s been a great season so far and we’re having lots of fun,” Gibson enthused. “We’re looking forward to the second half now.
“We’ll take the next couple weeks to keep evolving and hopefully be more competitive at the end there, too.
“It’s really a high level of ball in Winnipeg, so it’d be nice to have everything where we want to be by that weekend,” he noted.