Duane Roen said earlier this month he wasn’t going to assume his Muskie squad was the best junior boys’ volleyball outfit in NorWOSSA until he had the championship trophy in his hands.
Alas, his sense of foreshadowing was all too accurate for his tastes.
The Muskies watched defending champion Dryden destroy their hopes of an undefeated season as the Eagles earned a 3-1 victory in the best-of-five NorWOSSA final last Thursday in Kenora, forcing Fort High to settle for the silver medal.
After the Eagles took the opening set by a narrow 25-23 margin, the Muskies battled back to win the second one 25-17.
But it was all Dryden after that, winning the next two sets 25-11 and 25-19 to seal the deal.
“We had a great season,” said Roen, whose team had finished in first place in the regular season with an 8-0 record, won tournaments in Kenora and Dryden, and also earned silver at a Thunder Bay tournament—all just one season after suffering through an 0-8 campaign.
“It came down to Dryden’s one player [Sawyer Kluke]. We couldn’t stop him,” recalled Roen.
“He was hitting around blocks, throwing up blocks, and when we finally got him into the backcourt, we couldn’t get enough points off of them before he came back up front.”
Roen jokingly pointed to bad luck as having played a part in the Muskies’ misfortune.
“We brought 13 players up to Kenora and the guy we couldn’t stop [Kluke] was wearing No. 13,” he chuckled.
“So maybe there’s some irony there.
While composure had been a trademark of the junior squad this season, that clearly was lacking in the early stages of the gold-medal match.
“I’ve never seen the guys so nervous going into a game,” noted Roen. “Our serving was at 60 percent, when usually it’s around 85 or 90 percent.
“And with the big gym in Kenora, the distances are misleading.
“We’re used to a small gym [there] where the wall is only six feet away from the end of the court.”
The Muskies fell behind 23-16 in the first set, but rallied to tie it 23-23 before letting it slip away.
Roen’s crew was bolstered by their late-set run, however, and put in its best effort of the day to capture the second set before things went downhill from there.
“In the third set, [Kluke] just came out flying,” said Roen. “Then we got off to another slow start in the fourth and got down by eight points.
“We played them evenly after that, but we just couldn’t make up the early difference.”
Roen said while his team was disappointed it couldn’t finish off an excellent campaign on a winning note, most believed they played the best they could.
“In hindsight, we didn’t run a lot of set plays because when you run plays, it increases the risks [of not getting the point],” Roen explained.
“The guys were just too nervous to run plays and maybe that hurt us.”
Still, Roen is confident the six players moving up to the senior ranks next season will provide strong roster support for their older Muskie brethren.
“They all have something to offer, whether it’s serving, passing, or hitting,” he noted. “This whole team was full of kids with good skill qualities and who were just good kids.
“It’s one of the best teams I’ve coached.”
Not to be
The Muskie senior volleyball team, meanwhile, was hoping for some playoff magic last Thursday in Kenora as it tried to put an 0-8 regular-season mark behind them.
But the Dryden Eagles nixed that plan in the semi-final with a 3-1 win (25-22, 25-12, 20-25, and 25-16) to end Fort High’s difficult year.
“I felt great about the team’s effort,” said Muskie coach John Gibson. “We didn’t play perfect, of course. Otherwise, we would have won.
“But the guys played at a very high level and there was some really excellent volleyball in that game,” he added.
Gibson pointed to Dryden’s hustle under fire, and some ill-timed misplays on the Muskies’ part, as the key ingredients in the loss.
“Dryden scrambled really well and we missed some balls we should have dug up,” he recalled. “We made a few mistakes, like missing some serves and hitting the ball into the net.
“In the first set, we felt we outplayed them,” he added. “The second set, for some reason, we just weren’t into it.
“We were much better in the third and started really well in the fourth,” Gibson continued. “It was 7-7, but then we dropped four points in a row and then another four in a row a couple of rotations later.
“We just couldn’t get back into it after that,” he lamented.
On the bright side, the senior squad expects to have anywhere from six-nine returnees on next year’s squad—and will benefit from an infusion of talent from this year’s junior roster, as well.
“I think we’re in really good shape with this program over the next couple of years,” Gibson predicted.