The Neelin Spartans varsity girls’ volleyball team pulled off a crazy comeback to shock the top-ranked Linden Christian Wings and capture the AAA provincial championship in Winnipeg on Sunday.
The Spartans went in as the No. 4 seed, got past the Dauphin Clippers and Jeanne-Sauve Olympiens and nearly saw their run stop after that. Down 19-8 in the first set of the final, Neelin roared back to steal the frame and ultimately win 2-0 (26-24, 25-14).
It’s the Spartans’ third straight AAA title. And if that’s not impressive enough, it’s the first time anyone has accomplished the feat at that level since the four-tier system came into place in 1991.
"It’s unfathomable for me," said Neelin middle Marly Pellerin, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player after recording 11 kills in the gold-medal match.
"I never would have expected to have done something so rare that happens to few people. To be a part of not one or two, but three championships is just crazy."
She looked back on how she grew from a Grade 10 starter to more than just a hitting and blocking machine.
"My teammates made it so easy for me to be able to go out and play freely and work hard," Pellerin said of her 2017 teammates. "It taught me how to be a role model and a leader in my day-to-day job as a captain now in my Grade 12 year. It really helped me to look to the other players and get everybody to work well as a group."
When they went down big in the final, Pellerin noticed just how big it was to have coach Lana Dubois on their side, settling the team down in a timeout and getting it back on track.
"I don’t think she ever doubted us for a second that we couldn’t go into that game and win it. There’s not a doubt in my mind when it comes to her being a big factor in my career," Pellerin said. "I’m so happy to have been a part of a team with her as my coach the past four years."
The Spartans had key contributions across the board in the final. Middle Kassidy Loewen recorded 10 kills, while Lauren McCausland and Kyra Black each added four and Mackenzie McLennan and Piper Robinson served four aces apiece.
To get there, they had to beat Jeanne-Sauve, which upset second-ranked Virden in the quarterfinals and was coming off back-to-back AAAA titles. The Olympiens dropped to AAA after graduating most of its key pieces from the 2018 team: It was a move made possible by this year’s Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association reclassification for school sizes.
McCausland and Black came up big with eight aces and seven kills, respectively, as Neelin won 2-0 (25-17, 25-19).
In that match and the Spartans’ 2-0 (25-19, 25-20) quarterfinal victory over the Dauphin Clippers, Dubois noted Neelin started slow and had to rally — though not quite like the 11-point comeback for gold.
"Something turned on and we fought a little harder, dug ourselves out of holes. Once we gained momentum it seemed like we became unstoppable," Dubois said. "For us, we obviously have some big players and big girls in the middle who contributed a lot to our offence but we obviously can’t get the job done with one person.
"We needed to be able to play together as a team and everything came together. It wasn’t one person who helped win the championship, it was everyone who contributed throughout the whole weekend."
Neelin setter Brooklynn Taron and libero Brooklynn Sawchuk were named to the all-star team.
On the boys’ side, the Spartans bowed out in the quarterfinals 2-0 (25-11, 25-22) to the eventual champion Westgate Wings.
See Page B4 for full results from all varsity volleyball provincials.
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