Sentinels spike teams cart home five medals

Joey Payeur

Atikokan’s mining boom may be on the horizon, but the St. Francis Sentinels staked their claim on Saturday and struck a motherlode of precious medals.
All five St. Francis squads in the Gord Savoy Invitational Grade 7-8 volleyball tournament pocketed medals at the event, with three of them being of the golden variety and two more sporting a silver shine.
The Grade 8 Sentinels girls team, with the rest of their schoolmates roaring their support, concluded the day on a high note with a 2-1 victory (15-12, 13-15, 15-9) over the Mine Centre Thunderbirds in the best-of-three championship final at Atikokan High School.
St. Francis finished in first place in Pool A in the round robin, while Mine Centre captured Pool B and the final of the two top-flight teams didn’t disappoint.
The Sentinels used strong serving from the likes of Carly Taggart, Madisyn DeGagne and Sierra Cousineau and a potent power hitting game provided by Abbi Perreault, Alexis-Faith Perrault and Shanleigh Fryer to capture the first set.
But the Thunderbirds used a consistent three-hit attack to square the contest in the second, leading to an action-packed third set.
The Sentinels bent, but refused to break, with Taylor DeGagne’s serving, Anika Alexander’s hustle on defence and solid performances from Madyson Weir and Sarah Strain proving crucial in the third set.
Cassandra Moffitt provided the exclamation mark with a thunderous spike that not only finished off the Thunderbirds figuratively, but left one of their defenders in a heap on the floor with an apparent leg injury.
That led to a strange juxtaposition of the two halves of the court, with St. Francis embracing in celebration of their victory and unaware of the accident, while the Thunderbirds solemnly huddled around their fallen teammate.
Upon realizing the situation, the Sentinels hastily accepted their gold medals rather than extend the festivities so as to turn the focus on the well-being of Mine Centre’s injured player.
The matchup almost didn’t happen, thanks to a feisty St. Patrick’s Pats squad from Atikokan, which pushed the Sentinels to the limit in the semifinals.
St. Francis won the first set handily, but serve reception errors by the Sentinels allowed the Pats to even the match before St. Francis closed the deal in the third set for a 2-1 victory (game scores unavailable).
Fight to the finish
As for the Grade 8 St. Francis boys, the day started swimmingly with 2-0 sweeps of the shorthanded Riverview Royals from Rainy River (15-6, 15-10), St. Patrick’s (15-13, 15-10), the Robert Moore Mustangs (15-8, 15-8) and the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints from Kenora (15-11, 15-5).
The setting work of Connor Bujold, Dane Blais, Jacob Bolzan and Ben Whitburn was rounded out by some masterful serving by Carter Brown, Shawn Brady, Cam Jolicoeur and Sam Tibbs to get the Sentinels rolling.
The first hiccup came against the host Atikokan Voyageurs, who capitalized on multiple serving errors by the Sentinels to win the first game of their two-game match 15-10. Tied 12-12 in the second game, St. Francis pulled things together to grab a 15-12 decision, then swept Mine Centre to finish in first place in the seven-team division.
That set up a tougher than expected semifinal against fourth-place St. Patrick’s, with the Sentinels prevailing 2-0 (15-13, 15-8) and earning a spot in the gold-medal match against a rejuvenated Riverview squad.
St. Francis rolled to a 15-8 win in the first set, but fell victim to a backcourt setting attack by the Royals and lost the second 15-11.
A back-and-forth third set saw St. Francis jump out to an 8-2 lead, almost give all of its edge back, then bear down in the clutch to take the decisive game 15-10 to bring home the gold.
Mine Centre finished 6-6 in the round robin, but lost out on a playoff spot to Riverview and Atikokan in a three-way tiebreaker for third by having the worst points for-and-against differential in the head-to-head matchups between the three teams. Only the top four made the playoffs.
Robert Moore, made up of a mix of Grade 7s and 8s, had a difficult time against more experienced competition, winding up 2-10 to place last in the division and miss the playoffs.
Bragging rights
The Grade 7 girls division was dominated by the two St. Francis entries in the six-team category.
St. Francis No. 1 cruised to an 8-2 round-robin record and first place. The squad was bolstered by strong play at the net by Alex Adrian, McKenna Begin, Emily Bird and Claire Hyatt, while Anne Jean, Yvonne MacPherson, Maddi Sanders, Ana Stopa and Amber Williams covered the court in blanket-like fashion on the defensive side of the ledger.
St. Francis No. 2, featuring some fine offensive and defensive work by Kaitlyn Baldwin, Brielle Byma, Alyssa Chaisson, Rainy Kozik, Sydney Radigan, Courtney Williams and sisters Maggie and Rachel Jean, took second in the preliminary round with a 6-4 mark. Two of the four losses were to St. Francis No. 1 by scores of 15-12 and 15-7.
But the tide turned in the final, when the Sentinels No. 2 team shook off an opening 15-8 loss to take a nailbiting 16-14 decision in the second, then completed the minor upset with a 15-12 victory in the third to take the match 2-1 and the title, with St. Francis No. 2 winding up with the silver.
Robert Moore School was the surprise team of the group, ending up in last place with a 3-7 record. The surprise came in the playoffs, when the Mustangs upset third-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas No. 1 to reach the semifinals.
After losing to St. Francis No. 2 in the semifinals, Robert Moore recovered to knock off fifth-seeded Riverview 2-1 (8-15, 15-8, 16-14) in the bronze-medal final to finish third overall.
Smacking down
the smack talk
As for the Grade 7 St. Francis boys team, it was another case of late-day redemption.
An unsatisfying preliminary round left the Sentinels in last place and looking up at the rest of the contenders in the five-team group. But St. Francis pulled a pair of upsets to make it into the final, including a semifinal triumph over an overconfident St. Thomas Aquinas squad which was verbally disparaging the underdog Sentinels in the early stages of the match.
A timeout which included a pointed pep talk from coach Jeremiah McCart fired up St. Francis, which rode its emotion to the victory over the Saints.
Solid front-row play from Aaron Andrushuk, Graeme Kitt, Jarred Taylor and Andrew Roth, along with a health dose of determined effort from Brandon Duffy, Cam Turriff, Logan Morrisseau, Brandon Duffy, Marin Loncar, Andrew Hanson, Kyle Knapp, Ian Jodoin and Lucas Jourdain was the foundation for the Sentinels’ turnaround.
A loss to St. Pat’s in the final didn’t diminish from what was a great showing for the Grade 7 boys, who like their female Grade 7 counterparts, were playing in their only official tournament of the year.
As for the Grade 8s, the girls will venture into J.W. Walker for a tournament this Saturday, while the male Sentinels will take part in the Crossroads Tornadoes’ home tournament at Crossroads School in Devlin on the same day.