Neelin’s Amy Gordon sets up a kill during the Top 8 Debate varsity girls high school volleyball tournament. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Jared Friesen takes part in the Vincent Massey varsity boys volleyball team practice on Monday evening. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
For the first time in seven years, the Brandon High School Volleyball League will feature three AAAA girls teams when it begins the new season tonight.
Normally a AAA-sized school, the Neelin Spartans have made the move up to AAAA this season. Spartans head coach Kevin Neufeld started training a young group two years ago at Neelin and went on to win provincial gold and silver medals at the junior varsity level. The majority of that team has now moved up to the varsity ranks this season and is now the third-ranked AAAA team in the province after finishing third at the Top 8 Debate on Sept. 15.
Although Neelin got off to a solid start in its first tournament, Neufeld knows it will be a tough test for his team to play AAAA volleyball this season.
"It’s a big jump for sure, but it’s a challenge for every team to try to win at the top level," said Neufeld, whose team opens the regular season by hosting the No.1-ranked Vincent Massey Vikings today at 6 p.m. "We’re just going to go out and give it a shot."
Leading the way for Neelin, which hasn’t played AAAA girls volleyball since 2005, will be Amy Gordon at setter, Alison Quiring at middle and left side Jordan Hardy, who was named the team’s most valuable player last season.
Neufeld likes the way Gordon leads the way on the court and believes Quiring is the most dominant middle in the province. Neufeld likes his team and knows it will be tough to beat, especially if his players’ strengths show during matches.
"Our ball control has to be real good," he said. "We score particularly well out of the middle and if our outside attack sets up for our middle attack, that will be a big advantage in our favour."
However, Neufeld isn’t taking the other Brandon teams for lightly by any means. While Crocus Plains lost almost its entire starting lineup from last season, he knows they will still be tough to beat with the likes of Stephanie Hunter leading the team from her middle position. Vincent Massey, led by Carmen Hutsal and Jill Giesbrecht, looks like it will be an even tougher test this season after winning both the season-opening Top 8 Debate and the Westman tournament last weekend.
That, according to Neufeld, should make for a great league.
"I think it will be one of the most competitive leagues it has been in the last 10 years with all three teams," he said.
Meanwhile, Brandon’s varsity boys league should be just as competitive, according to Vincent Massey head coach Kurt Hunter.
Hunter believes all three teams should be evenly matched, and knows it will be tough to repeat as champions.
"I think it will be pretty balanced across the board," he said. "Neelin has some good, solid players. Crocus Plains as well has some older guys with experience. I think it should be fairly balanced this year."
The Vikings have lost two key players to graduation, and Hunter knows they won’t be easy to replace. Left side Conan Mickey is now a member of the Brandon University Bobcats and Blake Dechka was a solid setter for the team.
Hunter hopes Christian Jackson or Luk Kingdon, a pair of Grade 11 students, can step up at setter. He knows it will be tougher to fill Mickey’s void, but he thinks some Grade 12 veterans may be able to team up to give Massey a solid attack.
"We have some Grade 12 guys, most notably Jared Friesen, Rudy Letain and Daven Pascal, who are returning guys, as well as Joel Rocan, who’s a Grade 11 guy that has experience on the provincial team program this year," he said. "We’re looking for those guys to step up and fill the void from last year."
Hunter isn’t expecting the Vikings, who begin league play today at Neelin at 7:30 p.m., to compete for the provincial title. But he hopes they’re good enough to win another city championship and earn a trip to provincials again.
"We feel we can compete with some of the top teams in the province, maybe not necessarily the top-ranked ones, but maybe the fifth to 10th ranked in the AAAA division level," he said. "That’s our goal is to hopefully defend our city championship and make provincials and compete in there."
Crocus starts league play on Oct. 2 when it hosts Neelin. The girls game is set for 6 p.m., with the boys to follow at 7:30 p.m.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2012