TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Amy Gordon and Danielle Larocque of the Neelin Spartans block the ball during the Top 8 Debate Varsity girls high school volleyball tournament final at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School on Saturday. Neelin beat Lord Selkirk 2-1 (25-16, 15-25, 15-6).
The Neelin Spartans started their high school varsity girls’ volleyball season the way they ended last year, with a championship.
The defending provincial AAAA champions didn’t drop a single match during the Top 8 Debate tournament at Crocus Plains on the weekend, capping their title run with a 2-1 (25-16, 15-25, 15-6) victory over the Lord Selkirk Royals on Saturday night. The Spartans dropped only three sets during the entire weekend, but they also played almost their entire roster of 15 players throughout the season-opening tournament — including the final — which head coach Kevin Neufeld believes will pay dividends in the future.
"I think it’s important," he said. "It’s early in the year. Maybe if it’s November we do that a little bit differently, but it’s September. That other group played the second set and played really well in the semifinal. Our serve receive got in a bit of trouble there, but they played real well for us and in this game you need more than two or three people to get you some success."
While some of the substitutions were made by choice, one was not. Alison Quiring, who was named an all-star middle at last year’s provincial tournament, sat out most of the matches on Saturday with an injured shoulder.
That caused Neelin to lean a little more on left side Jordan Hardy, and the 17-year-old was ready. Hardy worked hard in the summer to get into great shape — which includes competing in two triathlons during her two month break from school — and finished the Top 8 Debate championship match with eight kills.
"I don’t think I’ve been in this good of shape before," said Hardy, a 5-foot-8 left side who’s in Grade 12. "I know I’ve gotten stronger and it’s really helped me with my arm speed and foot speed and everything in volleyball."
Emma Ciprick added eight kills in the final, while Tori Studler served up a pair of aces for Neelin.
Neufeld feels there were a lot of positives to take out of his team’s first volleyball tournament of the year, but he knows there’s still a lot of room for improvement, which will be needed if the Spartans are going to defend their provincial title.
"That confidence that was really important in this game and that belief that we work hard," he said. "We also learned that we have a lot of things to get better. We made a lot of unforced errors and our decision making needs to get better. We’ve had 20 practice so far, but we have another 40 or 50 this year to work things out."
The Vincent Massey Vikings finished in a tie for seventh in the tournament after falling 2-0 (25-14, 25-22) to the Westwood Warriors in the consolation semifinals.
Massey knocked out the host Crocus Plainsmen in the first round of the playoffs with a 2-1 (20-25, 25-20, 15-6) victory.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 16, 2013