Spikers facing long road to gold

Lucas Punkari

The two Muskie boys’ volleyball teams have to take the long route if they want to bring home their respective league crowns tomorrow in Dryden.
Both finished their regular seasons in second place with identical 3-5 records, and find themselves facing the Kenora Broncos in the semi-finals.
Awaiting the semi-final winners are the top-ranked and always strong Dryden Eagles, with the junior final getting underway at 2 p.m. and the senior title game at 5:30.
For the senior squad, they’ll be looking to put their season-finale loss to the Eagles here last Tuesday in the rearview mirror after falling in four sets (18-25, 25-19, 13-25, and 4-25).
“We’re going to pretend that [match] never happened,” head coach Allison Hyatt stressed.
“In the first set, we started slow, which is how we seem to be playing right now,” she recalled.
“But in the second set, we blew them away and we were up by 10 points at one point in that set.
“We’re not sure what happened in the next two sets, though, and that was probably our worst [match] of the season as a result,” Hyatt said.
“But we hope that we have got all of that out of our system before the playoffs.”
Even if the Muskies had knocked off Dryden, they still would have found themselves going up against Kenora in the semi-final, in what will be another battle between two teams that have had close encounters all season.
“I think we have a little bit of a edge against Kenora, but sometimes we are not ready to play and they get the jump on us early,” Hyatt admitted.
“They have one big hitter that we need to shut down as if he has a good game, their team ends up playing well,” she noted.
“But if we shut him down, we will be okay.
“We’re working at speeding up our offence and working on our defence,” added Hyatt. “And we are also working on a lot of our mental game as we saw on Tuesday what can happen when you are not mentally prepared.”
If the Muskies are successful in their semi-final match against Kenora, that would set up a showdown with the heavily-favoured Eagles, who also will have the home crowd on their side.
“We would be going into that [match] with an us-against-them mentality,” Hyatt said.
“We have nothing to lose if we go up against them, and we would just leave everything out on the court and just play our best in that [match].”
The junior boys, meanwhile, also are entering the playoffs following a loss in their regular-season finale to Dryden here last Tuesday.
But unlike their senior counterparts, they were able to take the Eagles to the limit before losing in five sets (25-22, 20-25, 28-26, 13-25, and 13-15).
“I was actually really happy with how the guys played in that [match] even though we lost,” head coach John Gibson said.
“We played really well in a tournament in Winnipeg the weekend before, and I was hoping to see that carry over from the guys against Dryden and we saw that early on,” he recalled.
“It was a close back-and-forth match between both teams, especially in that fifth set when it was really close.”
Heading into their semi-final battle with Kenora tomorrow, Gibson is expecting a close match between the two teams, especially with a berth into the final on the line.
“Us and Kenora are very similar in how we play, and even though they have a couple of strong players, I think we are a little bit deeper than they are,” Gibson said.
“We have a few areas that we are targeting on improving, though, going into that game.
“And as we move along this week in practice, I think we should see everything come together leading into the playoffs,” he added.