When the Neelin Spartans pack up and head west to Vancouver today, they will be carrying a No.1 ranking with them.
After dominating the season-opening Top 8 Debate varsity girls’ volleyball tournament on the weekend, the defending provincial champions were officially confirmed as the top-ranked team in the first Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association rankings of the season on Tuesday. Brandon’s Vincent Massey Vikings are ranked seventh in the province.
While the top billing is a nice way to start the season, Spartans head coach Kevin Neufeld said his team is more focused on being No.1 at the end of the year.
“It’s a bit of a reward for the kids and all the time that they put in, but at the end of the day it’s just the first week and I think sometimes we overrate that,” Neufeld said. “If we can be first on the first of December, then we will be a lot happier than we are now.”
A AAA-sized school, Neelin stepped up to the AAAA ranks last season with a team that didn’t feature a single Grade 12 student and won it all, beating the Mennonite Brethren Institute Hawks 3-1 in the championship final. The Spartans picked up right where they left off last weekend, going undefeated to claim the Top 8 Debate title at Crocus Plains with a 2-1 victory over the Lord Selkirk Royals in Saturday night’s final.
The Spartans know they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year and will go into every game with a sizeable target on their backs.
“Yeah, there’s no surprises this year and our kids know that and they’re comfortable with that,” Neufeld said.
“I think that pressure is just an opportunity for them to go and showcase their skills and they know there will be no easy games out there.”
The Spartans, who have eight veterans back from last year’s championship team and are carrying 15 players on the roster this season, fly out this afternoon to compete in the prestigious 48-team UBC high school invitational tournament in Vancouver.
“We are off to B.C. to play the top teams in that province and it will be a real good test for our team as well and we’re looking forward to it,” Neufeld said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 18, 2013