Amy Gordon sets the ball during the Neelin Spartans varsity girls’ practice Thursday at Neelin. The Spartans open the provincial AAAA high school championship tomorrow. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
The Neelin Spartans hope all their hard work will start to pay off this weekend.
Like every other high school volleyball team, the Neelin varsity girls have been building their season to peak at provincials, which start for them on Saturday in Winnipeg. Neelin came into the season with a young squad made up mostly of students in Grade 11, but they have been together for the last few seasons under the tutelage of head coach Kevin Neufeld.
This group of Neelin players — led by setter Amy Gordon and middle Alison Quiring — won the provincial junior varsity title two seasons ago and finished second at JV provincials last year. Now in the AAAA varsity ranks, Neelin wants to claim its first ever provincial title in the class.
"Obviously your goal is to win a championship," Neufeld said. "That’s the goal of every team that plays and is in the top 12 or competitive group that plays. That’s obviously what our goal is down the road."
The Spartans come into provincials as the second seed, which didn’t surprise Neufeld. His team swept the Vincent Massey Vikings in the best-of-three city final. Neelin also has a winning record against the top-seeded Mennonite Brethren Hawks, although the Hawks were victorious in the teams’ last meeting.
Neufeld knows it won’t be easy to reach the final on Nov. 26, but he has a lot of faith in his squad.
"We have good skill level and if we’re getting good contributions from everybody on our team then I think that will allow us to be successful," he said.
Neelin’s first opponent will be decided this afternoon when the Vincent Massey Vikings take on the J.H. Bruns Broncos in Winnipeg. Massey comes into provincials as the seventh seed and, while head coach Greg Beckwith would like to see his team get another shot at the Spartans, the Vikings are not looking too far ahead.
"The teams in AAAA from one through 10 are so close that we can’t look past them," Beckwith said. "We have to bring our best effort against J.H. Bruns first and then worry about who we play after."
"We’ve done a lot of hard work getting ready for this," he added. "We’re ready for the game. Now we just have to go out and execute."
Massey’s varsity boys will also gun for a provincial title. The Vikings are making their second straight appearance at the AAAA provincials, which start today at Winnipeg. However, the outlook doesn’t look so good for them.
The two-time defending city champions come into provincials as the 12th seed in the 12-team event and open the tournament against the Steinbach Sabres. Massey head coach Kurt Hunter knows his squad has a tough first opponent and a long road to go deep at provincials, but he has faith they can get off to a good start.
"We’re going into this first match against Steinbach believing we can beat them," he said. "We actually did have a little bit of success with them at U of M. It came out as a loss, but we definitely played well at times against them and we’ll go one set at a time against them and see what we can do. We’re confident that we can compete with them."
Meanwhile, the Neelin Spartans will be looking for a AAA varsity boys’ title at Ile des Chenes from Nov. 22-24. Neelin qualified for provincials by defeating the Sanford Sabres in a play-in game on Monday.
While all the teams playing at provincials aren’t finalized yet and the seedings haven’t been released, head coach John McLeod believes the Spartans can play with any team in the division.
"I think a lot of it has to do with consistency on our side of the net," he said. "We’re going to have to pass pretty well to compete with some of these teams, but I think we’re such an energy team that we could feed off some of these teams and really push them."
TIPS: The AA provincial championships will be held from Nov. 22-24, with the boys playing in Russell and the girls in Souris.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 16, 2012