The banner season for the Muskie senior girls’ volleyball team keeps on rolling.
The black-and-gold swept the St. Ignatius Falcons (Thunder Bay) in the best-of-three NWOSSAA championship held Friday and Saturday at Fort High and now advance to the all-Ontarios set for March 4-6 in Amherstburg.
The squad was masterful in protecting home court at the “Fish Tank,” much to the delight of the raucous home crowd, as it won both matches in straight sets.
“I think the kids believe in themselves finally and realize that they are a good team,” Muskie head coach Duane Roen enthused Saturday morning after the clinching victory.
“They’re trying to be all nice and sweet about it but they’re also gaining that confidence,” he noted. “I wouldn’t call it arrogance but they know they deserved to win today and they worked hard to get to that point.
“I’m very proud of the way they played,” Roen enthused. “They kept it together, no one had any kind of mental issues out on the court.
“You know, they stayed in system mentally and physically,” he lauded.
The Muskies started off strong as they swept the Falcons in straight sets in the opener Friday afternoon by scores of 25-20, 25-14, and 25-17.
The squad then kept that momentum going as they also won the second match Saturday morning by that same 3-0 margin to claim gold and advance to OFSAA.
After winning the first two sets by scores of 25-15 and 25-20, the third set was where the Muskies faced some adversity.
St. Ignatius jumped out to an early 5-1 lead, which prompted Roen to call a time-out and get his charges to settle down and refocus.
It seemed to work as the Muskies fought to trim the deficit to 6-4.
But the Falcons went on a run to lead by as much as 13-8 later in the set before sitting with an 18-16 cushion.
St. Ignatius was unable to make a pair of returns, which let the Muskies knot it at 18-18.
The two squads then traded points before Jamie Spencer came through with a kill to put the Muskies ahead 20-19.
St. Ignatius forced the Muskies into an unforced error to trim it to 21-20 but put their next return out of bounds.
The Muskies held on from there–pulling out a 25-21 win to seal the title.
“When the playoffs started, we had a focus and we wanted to make sure we could stay in system as much as possible and always score points,” Roen noted.
“We started the year off trying to hit the ball hard but then we changed the focus and said, ‘Kids, we just need to score points.’
“We can’t attack the ball the same way every time because other teams are going to pick up on that; they’re gonna come back at us,” he reasoned.
“So we did our best just to get the ball to Alina [Eldridge], practising Alina in different formations so that she could set the ball where it needs to go, and we’ve been really working on making our out-of-system plays our powerful plays, or as powerful as we can make them,” he added.
“So, a lot of putting balls out to the pins whenever we have the chance and the girls executed well.
“A little bit of nerves kicked in in the last set there,” Roen admitted. “They [the Falcons] kind of walked up on us a bit but we settled down.”
Roen also noted the Muskies’ bench was huge in pumping the team up, as was support from the home crowd.
“The bench, we call it ‘Player No. 7,’ was into it the entire match both days cheering everybody on and our eighth player, which is the crowd, it was great to be home,” he enthused.
“We had lots of parents and support from other teachers in the school,” he noted. “I think half the staff was here today it looked like.
“It was great to see,” Roen enthused. “The principal, vice-principal were here cheering the kids on so it was good to see the support.”
With both a NorWOSSA and NWOSSAA title now firmly under their belts, the Muskies are looking forward to the all-Ontarios.
Roen had some areas in mind his squad would be working on over the next weekend to make sure they are ready for the opening match there.
“The biggest thing is to get ourselves in the right spots and funnel the ball to where we want the diggers to be,” he remarked.
“We still struggle on defence,” he conceded. “We’ve been fortunate to have such height and kids that can really jump and have strong verticals.
“So we have a good shot at stopping the ball before it comes over.
“But when it does make it through, then we need to make sure that we’re stopped, focused, and can pop the ball up,” he added.
“We’ll be working on that next week.
“We’re always working on serving,” Roen noted. “We took a lot of risks this weekend and we’ll really be practising on those super low serves, lots of top-spin, and Alina’s been great at pushing the ball all around the court.
“We identified some weaknesses in [the Falcons] when we played them back in December, so we tried out that system when we played them in mid-January and beat them quite easily,” Roen recalled.
“What we are doing is working so we didn’t stray from that.
“The kids, they’re buying into the system,” he added. “They understand that if they do this, it certainly increases their chances of success.”