Junior spikers start strong

Jamie Mountain

It’s been a tale of two different seasons so far for the Muskie junior and senior boys’ volleyball teams.
The juniors have roared out of the gate, winning their NorWOSSA season-opener 3-2 (25-15, 20-25, 25-19, 22-25, and 15-12) against the visiting Dryden Eagles last Thursday afternoon before claiming the title at the Kenora Invitational Tournament over the weekend.
Fort High downed the Sioux Lookout Warriors in the championship match on Saturday to snare the tourney crown.
“The team impressed me, for sure,” said Muskie head coach Terry “Goose” McMahon.
“We had a really slow start our first two games but started playing some good volleyball after that,” he noted.
“We got a little better each game, [and] our rookie line played well and took sets from the Kenora Broncos and Sioux Lookout.”
The black-and-gold had opened tourney play Friday with a straight-sets win (25-22/25-20) over the Broncos before earning a split (27-26/10-25) with the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora).
Then after losing in straight-sets to the Dryden Eagles (19-25/22-25), Fort High swept the Warriors (25-18/25-20) to finish third in pool play.
“Our serving wasn’t great,” McMahon conceded. “We gave away a lot of points from missed serves.
“We definitely could have served better,” he stressed. “But it did improve with each game.”
The Muskies then dumped the Broncos 2-1 in the quarter-finals Saturday morning before beating the Saints in the semis that afternoon to advance to the gold-medal match against the Warriors.
“Keeping the boys focused was definitely a challenge, as it is with all young athletes,” McMahon remarked.
“It was great to see our rookie line win their first set of the year,” he added. “They were down seven to the Broncos and came back to win the set.
“It was awesome,” he enthused.
McMahon also noted Jaxon Gartzke “crushed a beautiful ‘C’ ball,” which was fun to watch.
“DJ Payne got his first big kill of his high school career. There was a lot of great moments,” he added.
As for their NorWOSSA season-opening win here last Thursday, the Muskies showed some resilience against the Eagles in pulling out the five-set victory.
The Muskies watched Dryden take the second and fourth sets, but buckled down when necessary to claim the fifth-and-deciding one.
“I think Dryden just played volleyball whereas we were less-focused,” McMahon reasoned.
“First-game jitters maybe, first home game, not sure what it was,” he admitted. “We just have to play our game going forward.”
The juniors were slated to play the Broncos in Kenora yesterday, with the outcome not known as of press time.
McMahon had some areas in mind that the Muskies were going to work on in practice Monday afternoon to be prepared come yesterday.
“The season is still early so we will still be working on a little bit of everything,” he revealed.
“Probably emphasize serving, decision-making, and work on our attacks,” he added.
“I want our boys to be more confident on our third contacts.
“We need to play aggressive and not be worried about making mistakes,” McMahon stressed. “So we’ll spend some time on offence, for sure.”
McMahon said the biggest key to being successful against the Broncos would be to minimize errors on the court.
“The biggest keys on Tuesday will be putting our serves in, minimizing our errors, and just playing our game,” he remarked.
“It’s great to watch when we play like we are capable of.”
As for the senior squad, it opened NorWOSSA regular-season play Thursday with a 3-2 loss (25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 18-25, and 10-15) to visiting Dryden.
Then at the KIT over the weekend, they bowed out in the quarter-finals with a straight-sets loss to the host Broncos.
Muskie head coach John Gibson was disappointed with the weekend’s outcome.
“I am disappointed with our performance . . . I expected a better finish,” he said.
“[The] challenges were our court coverage, passing, and serving.”
Fort High was swept by the Saints (16-25/16-25) and the Westgate Tigers (14-25/19-25) before earning their own sweep versus Manitouwadge (25-14/25-19) to finish third in Pool ‘B’ play on Friday.
“The joys are that when we played well, and ran our offence effectively, [it] led to some big hits,” Gibson said.
As for the loss to Dryden in NorWOSSA play here Thursday, Gibson conceded it was hard for his squad to get back on track after being up 2-0 and then dropping the third set en route to the five-set defeat.
“They [the Eagles] kept playing all five sets,” he remarked. “We were up 2-0 [but] after dropping the third, we couldn’t get our momentum back.”
Gibson also said he was impressed with Maverick Smith’s improvement in both blocking and attacking the ball in the early going.
The seniors also were slated to play the Broncos yesterday in Kenora (outcome wasn’t known as of press time) and Gibson knew what his charges would have to do to get back on track.
“Court coverage,” he stressed. “We need to get tips and free balls up to our setter.
“If we play solid defence and limit the number of unforced errors, we can get the win.”