Muskie jr. spikers off to roaring start

Dan Falloon

The Muskie junior boys’ volleyball team made its presence felt at an invitation tournament in Kenora over the weekend.
The team was split into two squads, with one coming up just short in the final while the other captured the consolation crown.
The first split-squad won seven of 12 sets in the preliminary round before beating Dryden #1 2-1 (25-23, 17-25, and 15-13) in the semi-finals.
Then in the final, the team suffered an up-and-down three-set loss to St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora), with the Saints prevailing 25-23, 11-25, and 15-3.
The Muskies’ second split-squad, meanwhile, won just three of their 12 preliminary sets but came to life in the playoff round.
The black-and-gold edged Dryden #2 2-1 (21-25, 25-17, and 15-9) and the swept the host Broncos 2-0 (25-23 and 25-20) to end the trip on a positive note.
Muskie head coach John Gibson was encouraged by the results, especially considering he split his roster between the six returning Grade 10 players and the Grade 9 rookies.
“The kids that are coming up into Grade 9 this year, we had them split with the kids that were back in Grade 10,” he noted.
“We had two balanced teams so that way, they had the leadership and the experience of the Grade 10s to work from.”
The returning Muskies will be looking to wash a sour taste from their mouths at the end of last season, when Dryden upset Fort High in the NorWOSSA final to spoil the black-and-gold’s quest for an undefeated season.
Besides the new players, Gibson is a new addition to the junior team, coming over from the senior squad as Duane Roen switches off to become an assistant with them.
Gibson is working to instill a strong commitment to perfecting basic skills, which was aided by their numerous matches over the weekend.
“It was just getting into running our offence, defence, and positioning,” he explained.
“Those basic fundamental skills that you need to be able to get games in order to run through [them].”
Fort High’s confidence improved dramatically over the weekend as the Muskies went from being timid to aggressive in the span of a few hours.
“That grew immensely over the course of the tournament,” Gibson lauded.
“We went from, in the first couple games, being nervous and hesitant to becoming more and more comfortable and being that much cleaner and smoother in their transitions, which was great.
“We saw a great deal of improvement at the net in terms of blocking and hitting,” he added.
“Same thing with defence,” Gibson noted. “The kids were digging a lot more, covering the court a lot better, getting balls up and their hands on the ball at the block.
“Early in the year like this, that’s what we want to see.”
With seven players on each of the two Muskie squads in Kenora, every player has several chances out on the floor, allowing them to shake off the rust in advance of the NorWOSSA season-opener tomorrow in Dryden.
“Not everybody got to play every set, but both teams had at least 17 sets anyways, so that’s a lot of court time,” Gibson enthused.
He feels each of his returnees are ready to make the transition from raw rookie to grizzled veteran.
“We’ve got six returning players—Sam Berube and Scott Parsons at power, Caleb McIntosh and Will Anderson in the middle, and then two setters, Dan Dennis and Brayden Botsford,” cited Gibson.
“They’re going to be the leaders and the anchors this year.”
As freshmen last season, Gibson noted the six players were given large amounts of responsibility—and expects that those battle-tested players will help out the newcomers.
“It’s having guys back that are familiar with the game and have played it at a higher level,” he stressed.
“A lot of those guys did see a lot of court time last year so they have experience, so they can pass that on to the [Grade] 9s and help them both on and off the court.”
The team is coming together socially, as well, with Gibson noticing that the players were much more raucous on the return trip than the initial drive to Kenora.
“It shows. The team really gelled,” he remarked. “We saw a lot more communication, and the kids were talking and having a lot more fun with each other at the end of the tournament.
“On the way up, it was a lot more quiet and more separated,” he noted. “The 9s know each other, the 10s know each other, but there wasn’t a lot of communication between the two.”
From his observations, Gibson predicted the Eagles will be in the thick of competition again this season, saying Dryden appears to be led by a strong returning core.
“From what we saw in the tournament, Dryden looks like they’ll be the stronger of the other two ‘AA’ schools,” he reported.
“Their Grade 10 group was quite a bit stronger.”