WINNIPEG — The Neelin Spartans varsity girls volleyball team made history on Monday night.
For the first time in the school’s history, the Spartans won a provincial AAAA varsity girls high school volleyball banner, and they did it in a dominating fashion.
After struggling through the first set of the championship final at the University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre, the Spartans took control and led the rest of the way as they beat the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Hawks 3-1 (18-25, 25-12, 25-23, 25-20).
"This is my absolute dream come true," said Spartans setter Amy Gordon, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. "I’ve never felt better than this feeling right now."
Neelin, the smallest school entered in the provincial championship, chose to move up from AAA to the AAAA ranks this season and showed Monday it was up to the challenge. This squad was put together three years ago by head coach Kevin Neufeld and have been competitive at every level they’ve played, winning a provincial junior varsity title two seasons ago and finishing second last year.
With all of the players in Grade 11, except for a pair of Grade 10s, the squad was focused on a top-four finish this season and a provincial title next year. However, they came in as the second seed and swept Brandon’s Vincent Massey Vikings in their quarter-final and beat the Glenlawn Lions 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 28-26, 25-22) in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Neelin’s Alison Quiring believes the team peaked a season early because of the close bond the players have formed with each other.
"I think our team is really proud," she said. "We’re a tight-knit group. We do everything together. We work really hard. We have high expectations of ourselves and we do not allow ourselves to do anything worse than the best."
Quiring, who was named a tournament all-star along with Neelin left side Kristine Ward, was a factor all match long. During the first two sets, Neelin’s middle dominated at the net by recording five of her six blocks. Her attacks became a factor in the second set and she finished the match with 10 kills.
It was a total team effort that earned Neelin the title. Gordon kept Neelin alive with key dumps and aces in the first set before distributing the ball to everyone on the court over the final three sets.
Ward led Neelin’s attack with 12 kills, while Paige Thomson, who was named Neelin’s player of the match, added nine. Gordon finished with seven kills and five aces, while Jordan Hardy served four aces for the Spartans.
"I think we did a real good job distributing the ball," Neufeld said. "I think Kristine Ward had her best game of the year for her. Tara van den Ham played exceptional. Sometimes I think some of those players don’t get a lot of credit, but it really helps when we have balanced scoring."
Kalena Shulz led MBCI with 15 kills.
While the Spartans basked in their championship moment on Monday, they know their work isn’t done yet. Every player from this year’s squad is eligible to come back again next year and they want to win back-to-back titles. That’s especially true for Quiring, whose older sister, Angelica, won two provincial AAAA titles with the Crocus Plainsmen in 2008 and 2009. That was the last time a Brandon school won the AAAA provincial girls crown.
"We can’t let this win get in the way of anything," she said. "We have to understand it will be just as hard next year and everyone will be gunning to beat us."