Junior spikers target second title

A close evaluation of the NorWOSSA junior boys’ volleyball league spotlights one undeniable fact: the margin for error is minimal.
“We went from worst to first last year and this year, we could go from first to worst,” said Muskie coach Greg Ste. Croix of his defending NorWOSSA champs.
“I’ve got high expectations, though, and I hope the team does, as well,” he added.
This year’s edition of the junior squad is divided evenly between returning players and rookies (six each). But Ste. Croix had anticipated more youth than what he has on hand, with eight of his 12 players in Grade 10.
“I would have liked more of a six-and-six split between the Grade 10s and 9s,” he admitted, but added both Grade 10 rookies Scott McFayden and Sean Wiersema worked hard during tryouts and earned spots on the team.
The divvying up of players extends beyond their age and experience levels. Ste. Croix has formed two six-man units, with veterans and newcomers mixed in both groups that he will count on equally at various times during the season.
“Both groups have to be ready to play in any situation,” stressed Ste. Croix, who noted he had no preference of one group over another when the pressure’s on.
“I have to make sure I build the confidence of both squads. Through thick and thin, they’re in this together.”
That team co-operation will be tested not only in NorWOSSA play, but at tournaments in Sioux Lookout on Sept. 27-28 and in Kenora on Oct. 25-26.
“The tournaments are good because can see where we are, and see how far we’ve got to go to get ready for the [NorWOSSA] finals,” said Ste. Croix.
Selecting key performers is something Ste. Croix steered clear of, adding it was unfair to pin the team’s showing on one or two players. But he made no bones about the “nose-to-the-grindstone” attitude he demands from his squad.
“My philosophy is I want a hard-working group, nothing flashy, practice in and practice out, and game in and game out,” Ste. Croix said.
“I need leadership from all 12 guys. Everyone should be accountable, and everyone should step up.”
< *c>Senior boys
Normally, tryouts for a senior high school varsity squad are packed tighter than the lineup outside a department store awaiting the start of a door-crasher sale.
To say Adrian Chapman is facing the other extreme this coming season would be an understatement.
“I only had five or six guys show up for the first tryout,” said Chapman, who will carry just 10 players—two of them junior aged—on the roster of the Muskie senior boys’ volleyball squad.
“We had quite a few guys from last year’s team decide to play hockey this year. We actually had to go hunt for players,” he added.
Obviously, avoiding injury will be critical to the black-and-gold having any success in NorWOSSA this season, but that’s not a topic Chapman is harping on to his team during practice.
“I’d rather not talk about that to them because I don’t want it sticking in the back of their head,” said Chapman, whose teams travels to Kenora this weekend for a tournament at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“But depth is a weakness for us,” he admitted. “This is the first year I haven’t had a full complement of OAC players. I’ve only got one or two this year.”
It’s a small but spirited group—and it’s the team’s effort so far in practice that has Chapman beaming about this season’s possibilities.
“The guys are willing to come in a half-hour early to get in the running and weightlifting we need to do so it doesn’t cut into practice time,” he enthused.
“They’re all pretty dedicated and gung-ho about each practice,” he added. “My practices can be pretty tough. I expect complete dedication. If you can’t give it, I don’t want you here.
“I understand people have to work, and people have to go to school. But for the hour-and-a-half of practice, it’s not asking too much to give everything you’ve got.
“By the end of the year, this is will be a great team,” he predicted.
Instead of the traditional one-setter system, Chapman will try a two-setter attack for at least the early part of this season, largely in part to the performance of middle men Pat Fleming and Matt Basaraba.
“They’re both very good athletes, and both have certain skills I can rely on at certain times,” said Chapman. “I just couldn’t choose between them.”
Both Muskie squads head up Dryden tomorrow (Thursday) for the NorWOSSA season-opener before kicking off their home schedule next Tuesday against the Kenora Broncos.
The juniors will play at 3:30 p.m. in the small gym, with the senior boys taking to the same court right afterwards.