Spiker squads looking to crown strong seasons with league titles

Jamie Mountain

The Muskie junior and senior girls’ volleyball teams both have had impressive seasons so far.
What better way is there to cap an already successful year than by adding a championship title?
That’s what is at stake this Friday at the NorWOSSA playoffs in Dryden, as both teams earned byes to their respective finals after finishing in first place during regular-season play.
The juniors swept away the host Kenora Broncos last Wednesday in straight sets (25-13, 25-6, and 26-24).
Then on Thursday, they faced a stiffer test from the Eagles in Dryden, needing all five sets (16-25, 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, and 15-10) to come away victorious and finish the regular season in first place with a 7-1 record.
“I thought the girls demonstrated a lot of grit and resiliency last week,” enthused head coach Bob Kowal.
“Our team played short-handed against the Dryden Eagles, having only eight players due to illness and concerns for academics,” he noted.
“The girls played well despite having some of our key players out of action in Dryden,” Kowal lauded.
“It really speaks to the depth of the team.”
The black-and-gold, along with their ‘B’ team, capped the week by competing in the St. Patrick’s tournament Friday and Saturday in Thunder Bay.
The NorWOSSA team opened round-robin play by downing the Hammarskjold Red (Thunder Bay), St. Ignatius Falcons, and Hammarskjold Gold (Thunder Bay) all in straight sets.
Then in the round of 16, they swept the Broncos in straight sets before earning a split with Dryden Gold in the quarter-finals.
The black-and-gold then downed the host Saints in the semi-finals to set up a championship showdown against Dryden.
But it was the Eagles who prevailed in straight sets to claim gold and leave the Muskies settling for silver.
The ‘B’ squad, meanwhile, opened with a split against the Whiskey Jacks before earning a straight-sets win over the La Verendrye ‘A’ team.
Then they downed Churchill (Thunder Bay) in straight sets, followed by a split against the La Verendrye ‘B’ squad.
But the Muskies then were bounced out of the tourney in straight sets in the round of 16 to the St. Patrick’s ‘B’ team.
“We played very well at times but I think we played a little too cautious in the finals,” Kowal admitted.
“The girls did have their chance in the first set but lost a squeaker 27-25.
“In the second [set], again, it was players making simple mistakes that cost them,” he added.
“In a close match like we were having, players need to react and play rather than look for others to make plays,” he reasoned.
“Too many times, free balls landed on the court between two players looking at each other for help, rather than taking the initiative to be assertive.
“It was a good lesson,” Kowal conceded. “If we’re going to lose a match, it is better to be then as opposed to the NorWOSSA finals.
“We’ll be highly-motivated to play on [Friday],” he said.
The senior Muskies also were triumphant in their final two regular-season matches last week.
They eked out a five-set win (25-16, 25-12, 22-25, 23-25, and 15-8) over the Broncos on Wednesday.
Then they breezed past the Eagles the following day in straight sets (25-22, 25-20, and 25-15) to finish with a league-best 6-2 record.
The squad began the year with just a 10-person roster, and have played a majority of their matches and tournaments with as little as seven players due to injuries and illness.
But the Muskies never used that as an excuse and still strung together an impressive campaign.
What will be the key to success for the squad come Friday?
“Kenora passes well and runs a strong left-side offence, so we need to continue to present a left-side block to stop or slow down the power behind their attack,” said head coach Duane Roen.
“Also, our defence needs to . . . read the attack early to be able to dig the hit,” he stressed.
“Communication on serve receive needs to be continuous, as our passers are close together and we need to be ready for serves to seams and our responsibility.
“Dryden is quick to place the ball [while] looking for open court [and] making us move,” Roen added.
“They also have a few strong servers that challenge us so we will be ready for either team on Friday,” he vowed.
“I am hoping they will send up a second bus so we don’t have to sit in Dryden for six-and-a-half hours before we play the most important match of the season,” Roen said.