A year later and the mindset is still the same for the Muskie junior girls’ volleyball team: win NorWOSSA gold.
The black-and-gold head into this season having done exactly that back in February, when they swept the host Dryden Eagles 3-0 in the final to cap an impressive season in which they compiled a 7-1 record during the regular season.
Defending that crown in a top priority–even with a roster turnover that will feature seven returning players and seven newcomers.
“We had quite a turnover of athletes from last year,” conceded head coach Bob Kowal.
“However, three of the new girls played with Terry McMahon and the Muskie ‘B’ team last year, and another comes with experience from Red Lake,” he noted.
“Our goal will always be to win NorWOSSA,” Kowal stressed.
“Along the way, we would like to continue our winning ways in tournaments similar to last year.”
The junior Muskies only lost one tournament last year–and that one came in the final–but Kowal said the defeat bothered his players.
“We are of the same mindset that we’re very capable of doing the same this year,” he remarked.
“We’ll have to win differently, though, as our ball control will need to be our strength as opposed to a very potent attack like we had last year,” he explained.
The black-and-gold lost several starters from last season–and a lot of their size, as well.
But the returning players are highly-skilled and have a full season of club volleyball experience.
“They also gained a tremendous amount of experience participating in the Manitoba provincials last year,” Kowal said.
“We did retain three of our starters from last year, including Grace Kowal (setter), Aurora Hutton (left-side attacker), and Keisha DeBungie (middle attacker),” he noted.
“Unfortunately, Keisha injured her ankle at our first team practice and will be out between six-eight weeks.
“We do expect Keisha to recover 100 percent, so that is very encouraging for the team but especially exciting news for Keisha,” he added.
Kowal said the Muskies are very comfortable with their abilities, as is he.
“Although we are not as physically imposing size-wise as last year’s team, I am very confident [that] by the new year, the girls will be a force to reckoned with,” he predicted.
The Muskies will host an exhibition tournament this Saturday at both Fort High and J.W. Walker School, which will serve more as a learning experience rather than being results based.
The Dryden Eagles, Kenora Broncos, Rainy River Owls, Atikokan Voyageurs, and St. Thomas Aquinas Saints all are expected to participate, with each team playing six matches.
“There are no playoffs and we will not be posting any scores or results,” said Kowal.
“It is about giving the athletes an opportunity to compete in an environment that is somewhat competitive but focused on their learning rather than the end result,” he explained.
After the tourney, the Muskies will open the NorWOSSA regular-season next Tuesday (Dec. 4) on the road against the Kenora Broncos.
Kowal said his squad will be working on skills and fundamentals ahead of the match, and moving forward throughout the season.
“However, I am looking to improve our fundamentals for attacking and serving early in the year,” he stressed.
“I believe we have athletes who can really elevate but need some more opportunities to practice attacking and serving the ball aggressively.
“Already, our team is practising their jump serves and I feel strongly it could become a very integral part of our game moving forward,” Kowal added.
“So if we have any goals, it probably revolves around personal goals, i.e., trying and making a certain amount of jump serves, or a tactical team goal like learning/mastering our serve-receive system, which is very quite complicated for many new players,” he noted.