Vipers wrap up inaugural season

Dan Falloon

The local club volleyball team—the under-14 Fort Frances Vipers—started up looking to pull even with programs run in the town of Dryden, which generally ends up being a volleyball powerhouse.
So it was fitting, in a way, that at the club’s first and only tournament of the year in Portage la Prairie, Man., that the premiere match for one of the split squads was against one of Dryden’s entries.
“We did play Dryden our very first game,” recalled coach Amy Wilson-Hands, who took the reins of the Vipers along with Muskie junior girls’ coach Jason Cain.
“We ended up losing to them, but not by much, and I think it partly had to do because it was our very first game in competitive [play] ever,” she noted.
“And it was the first game in the tournament, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.
“I think if we could have played them later on in the day, we would have taken them, for sure,” Wilson-Hands remarked.
One of the Fort Frances split squads won six of its 10 sets that weekend while the younger squad, made up primarily of players in Grades 6 and 7, captured just one but hung tough in several others.
“Those are Grade 7s and 6s playing in a Grade 8 tournament,” noted Wilson-Hands, adding the age difference is a factor at that level.
Wilson-Hands felt the tournament showed an example of how far the girls had come since beginning tryouts in March.
“[At the tournament], there were Grade 8 teams that were running quicks and just phenomenal hitting,” she said.
“For us to come in and to have never been at a competitive tournament, and actually win against some of those teams, just shows you how strong the Vipers—and the future Muskies—are,” she stressed.
“What they really achieved during club was their transitioning off of the net and their overhand serving,” Wilson-Hands lauded.
“Their passing has come [along] a tremendous amount,” she added. “It’s amazing. And their hitting.
“All skills have come really far.”
Wilson-Hands also said Muskie senior girls’ coach Duane Roen was a major help in improving the players’ skills—correcting their movements and increasing their rates of success.
“When they first started tryouts, they were swinging their arms, they weren’t moving to the ball,” she recalled.
“There were a lot of shanks, which means it hits their arms and then goes off into the opposite direction.
“He [Roen] just worked with them and worked with them, and got their footing and he stopped them from swinging their arms.
“It was just a huge improvement,” Wilson-Hands said.
With help from trainer Terry McMahon, the girls’ cardiovascular and overall fitness developed as well, she noted.
“They were quicker on the court. They were stronger,” she remarked. “I think if we would have had a longer season, it would have even improved more.”
Having a longer season is exactly what the team is looking at for its second year. It hopes to kick off training in late November or early December, instead of early spring like this year.
“This is kind of our pilot year just to figure things out, so next year, we’ll definitely be in more tournaments than just one,” Wilson-Hands stressed.
“[Other organizations] start their club teams in the late fall, where we didn’t start ours ’til the end of February, almost, so they had a few months on us. . . .
“That’s where Dryden had us, and where most of those teams had us,” she noted.
Wilson-Hands praised team members, who were playing on a club team for the first time, for their enthusiasm to pick up new skills, which made running practices easier.
“They were eager at every practice to learn something,” she said. “They just grew so much in the sport of volleyball, and they were actually sad to see the season end.”
At the end of the season, Grade 7 player Sierra Cousineau ended up taking team MVP honours.
“She’s just a phenomenal player,” lauded Wilson-Hands. “She’s come a long way and is really well-rounded.”