The Neelin Spartans are one win away from earning their first-ever Manitoba AAAA varsity girls’ high school volleyball championship.
The Spartans advanced to the provincial final on Wednesday night with a 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 28-26, 25-22) victory over the Glenlawn Lions at Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre. While the Spartans, ranked second in the province, got through the semifinals, head coach Kevin Neufeld admitted it was a very tough match.
"It wasn’t an easy game by any means," Neufeld said via telephone from Winnipeg. "We were way down in the third set and were able to come back to win that one 28-26, which was a huge turning point."
Things looked bleak midway through the third set as the Lions jumped out to a 16-7 advantage. At that point, Neufeld gathered his troops to calm them down and get them to focus on playing within their capabilities, rather than trying to do too much.
His team listened and rallied back to force extra points and eventually win the set. Their willingness to battle back and pull out the crucial set impressed Neufeld.
"I think it says a lot about the character," Neufeld said. "It would have been pretty easy to fold the tent. Sometimes when the game gets hard, it’s easy to not dig in and go south and we did a good job of digging in and fighting back."
The Spartans cruised through the fourth set, leading by three or four points most of the way, en route to victory.
They also caused a lot of issues in the Lions’ defence by distributing the ball so well. No Spartan reached double digits in kills, with Alison Quiring and Paige Thomson leading the way with nine apiece. Jordan Hardy was right behind at eight and Kristine Ward added seven for the Spartans.
The balanced attack caused the Lions to try to guess where Spartan setter Amy Gordon was going to pass the ball and Neufeld believes that is the key to his team having success.
"It was a good balanced attack," he said. "We had a little bit of distribution, which I think was important for us and that’s what we need to do Monday night as well."
Neelin will face the MBCI Hawks in Monday’s final at the Duckworth Centre at 6 p.m. The top-seeded Hawks beat the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes in five sets in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
Neelin has never won a AAAA varsity girls’ provincial volleyball title, although it has seven AAA varsity girls’ crowns. Most of these players, who are all in Grade 11 or Grade 10, did win a AAA/AAAA junior varsity provincial title two years ago and finished second last season.
The Crocus Plainsmen were the last local team to win a AAAA varsity girls’ volleyball title, in 2009.