The regional boys’ volleyball team broke a 20-year drought at the Ontario Summer Games in Sudbury last week.
Three local players—Jacob Hawley, Brandon McGinnis, and Gavin Moorhouse—were part of Team Northwestern’s first match win in two decades, with the squad returning home with a pair of victories en route to a sixth-place finish.
“The region hadn’t won a game in 20 years, so it was kind of a big deal,” McGinnis enthused of the best-of-three wins, which were by margins of 2-1 over Southeastern (15-25, 29-27, and 15-12) and Northeastern (25-17, 27-29, and 15-10) on Thursday.
McGinnis, who is entering Grade 11 this fall, said the team stuck to the fundamentals in the victories, which gave them confidence to finish the job.
“We were just trying to get our serves in,” he recalled.
“It just seemed like we were excited about playing more than in the other games, [which were] kind of a blowout,” he added.
Hawley, meanwhile, said the coaches stressed being vocal on the court, which was a major factor in their two triumphs.
“Talking as a team, communication, and working with the setters,” explained Hawley, who plays middle.
“[We were] talking throughout the whole game and just playing as a team, not getting down on ourselves,” he stressed.
In their other matches, Northwestern fell 2-0 to Southwestern (25-7/25-14), Central West “Red” (25-7/25-18), and Central West “White’ (25-6/25-16) on Wednesday and also were swept 2-0 by Eastern (25-10/25-18) on Thursday.
Friday brought a 2-0 quarter-final loss to Eastern (25-15/25-7) before a 2-0 sweep at the hands of Southwestern “White” (25-13/25-13) in the fifth-place game.
McGinnis, who played libero during the tournament, which helped to improve his passing dramatically, noted Northwestern was at a bit of a height disadvantage in most of its matches.
He said most players on the squad were 5’9” or 5’10” while opponents as tall as 6’5” were a common sight.
Featuring players from around the region, there were some familiar faces awaiting the local trio at the Summer Games—but this time as teammates, not opponents.
McGinnis admitted it was particularly hard to face some players from the Dryden Eagles, who had upset the previously undefeated Muskie junior boys in the NorWOSSA final back in November.
“It was hard working with the Dryden kids at first because we lost to them this year,” he noted.
“It was weird having to know them, but we became wicked good friends throughout the trip.”
“It was a little different, but it’s a sport so you’ve got to get used to that,” reasoned Hawley.
“At first there was a little bitter taste since we went undefeated in NorWOSSA play and then they beat us,” he added.
“We put it aside once the games started.”
Being able to suit up with some new players was a plus from the Games, according to Sarah Glover, who was on the regional girls’ team along with Caitlin Sande.
“I think that made it even better, playing with my ‘rivals’ instead of against them,” Glover wrote in an e-mail while on vacation in Minneapolis.
“We all got to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she added.
“I know that is going to reflect how we play each other in the future.”
Glover agreed with her male counterparts that the transition from foe to friend was a little difficult in the early going as each player brought different experiences and skills to the table.
“Playing with a brand new team, and having less than a week to adapt to each other, is not easy,” she acknowledged.
“The hitters had to really communicate and work with the setters to get the set just right so we can go up and kill it!”
Before too long, though, the players were getting along famously and morphing into a working team.
“They made me a better volleyball player, not just by showing me some good tricks but by never letting me criticize myself too hard,” Glover lauded.
“They never let me stay bummed out for too long.
“Eventually someone said something that got me laughing, and I shook it off and played the game I knew I could.”
Northwestern went winless on the girls’ side but Glover said the players still were proud of their showing.
“We weren’t the strongest team there, but some of the other regions’ coaches had said that we may have been one of Region 1’s strongest teams yet,” she recalled.
“We can challenge them, make them work for the win, and that’s exactly what we did.
“Every game we played we had some amazing hits, tough serves, and played some great volleyball!” she enthused.
Northwestern fell 2-0 to Southwestern (25-15/25-13), 2-0 to Central East (25-6/25-13), 2-1 to Central West (26-28, 25-11, and 15-2), and 2-0 to Eastern (25-16/25-20) to open action last Wednesday.
The squad also dropped all four of their Thursday matches, losing 2-0 to Central East (25-16/25-10), 2-0 to Central West (25-21/25-10), 2-1 to Eastern (25-15, 24-26 and 15-6), and 2-0 to another Eastern team (25-8/25-14).
The girls then dropped both their playoff matches—2-0 to Central East (25-12/25-9) in the 7th vs. 10th game, setting up a showdown with Northeastern in the ninth-place game, where they were swept 2-0 (25-13/25-11).
The team was coached by Karla Brayshaw and Morgan Lowe, who play for the Lakehead University Thunderwolves, while Lakehead coach Chris Green provided instruction during the morning sessions.
Glover said Green offered her some advice that she hadn’t heard before, and was able to apply the change into her game.
“All my previous coaches always told me to never swing my arms when I bump, except Chris,” she explained.
“He was encouraging it the whole week,” she noted. “I hope the coaches that I get to work with don’t mind and can take advantage of the reasoning behind this.
“I know for a fact that it works when you use it right!”
While Glover took plenty away in terms of on-the-court skills, she said the Games’ opening ceremonies were a major highlight.
She compared them to those at the Olympics, with a feast for the senses when Lt.-Gov. David Onley officially kicked off the event.
“The next thing I knew, there were fireworks, confetti exploding, and music was already being played!
“It was incredible to see,” she enthused.
Glover also wanted to thank senior Muskie coach Duane Roen for encouraging her to attend the regional team’s tryouts, as well as junior coach Jason Cain for helping her build her skills with the NorWOSSA squad.