It appeared as though the Muskie senior boys’ volleyball team was close to putting a disappointing regular season behind them early in the NorWOSSA final here last Tuesday.
But after claiming the first two sets by scores of 25-19 and 25-15 against the top-ranked Kenora Broncos, things started to fall apart for the third-seeded Muskies in their upset hopes.
Kenora eked out a 25-23 win in the third set and then with the score knotted 7-7 in the fourth one, the Muskies lost their best player in Ben Smith to injury.
Ultimately, it morphed into a recipe for disaster as the black-and-gold dropped the set 25-12 and couldn’t muster much in the fifth-and-deciding one as the Broncos took it 15-7 to snatch the gold medal.
“It was a tough loss both physically and mentally,” noted Muskie head coach John Gibson.
“Not only is [he] our best player, he is a leader and a mentor to the others,” he said of Smith.
“They [the Muskies] played great,” Gibson added. “We won the first two sets and overcame a deficit early in the third.
“The fourth set was close [at] 7-7 until we lost Ben.
“Even the fifth set, we regained our composure and started out well,” he recalled.
“We were tied 4-4 but then we struggled.”
The Muskies advanced to the final after sweeping the second-seeded Dryden Eagles 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, and 25-23) in the semi-final earlier in the day.
Gibson was thrilled with how his squad competed in the dominant victory.
“I was really happy with how they played, particularly when they rallied back in the second set,” he remarked.
“They played very well but there was still room for improvement.
“Ben [Smith] stood out as a leader amongst the team,” Gibson lauded. “He kept the team focused and upbeat throughout the matches.
“I am super proud of Hunter [Brown], who moved into the setter role this year and continued to improve throughout the season.
“Once again, Joseph [Dueck] was a clutch server,” Gibson added. “He was instrumental in our rally back in the third set, which gave us an opportunity to win the match against the Broncos.”
Moving forward, Gibson hopes his graduating players will continue to play volleyball wherever and whenever they can.
“I hope that the players who move on continue to play the game recreationally, intramural, community leagues, or competitively with a club or [at] college,” he said.
“They are a very talented group of players and were a joy to work with for the past four or five years.”
As for his returning players next season, Gibson believes that with all of the experience they gained, coupled with those juniors who will be moving up, his squad will have a great shot at being successful.
“We have a strong group of Grade 11s returning in Mike Vanderaa, Jesse Jourdain, Chandler Borger, Ryley Booth, and Caleb Allan,” he noted.
“And combined with the Grade 10s that will be moving up into senior, the program will be in really good shape.
“They will have a great chance to win a NorWOSSA title next year,” Gibson predicted.