WESTLOCK - The future of volleyball in Westlock is extremely bright, with R.F. Staples School’s junior varsity girls team netting their second-straight tournament title in as many weekends, while the St. Mary School (SMS) senior girls, a club that counts only a single Grade 12 athlete and had yet to even play a game, opened their season with a bronze medal.
Eight teams competed at the R.F. Staples JV Girls Volleyball Tournament held Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 at the school, but it was the JV T-Birds who ruled the roost, downing Edson’s Parkland Composite High School Pacers 25-23, 25-23 in the Saturday-night final. The title is the second in as many weekends for the JV T-Birds who claimed gold the previous weekend, Sept. 23-24, at the six-team Morinville Composite High School (MCHS) Junior Varsity Tournament. There the girls went undefeated and capped their weekend with a 2-0 win over Sturgeon Composite High School, a remarkable turnaround considering the club failed to make the playoffs at their season-opening tournament in Thorhild.
Coach Steve McKenna said the girls have been able to limit their mistakes and remain focused on the recent run. At their home tournament the JV T-Birds went 2-1 in the round robin with wins over Frank Maddock (Drayton Valley) and John Maland (Devon), falling only to the Pacers in three sets, then downed MCHS 2-0 in the quarterfinals. The semifinals proved to be another tough test for the JV T-Birds who edged their cross-town rivals from SMS in three sets.
“The goal is that the kids improve their skills and have some success. In the final when they faced a little adversity, they definitely rose to the challenge,” said McKenna. “But we had our struggles at the tournament, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Against St. Mary in the three sets alone we gave up 23 points due to missed serves. So we had our moments where we elevated our game and other times where we took a step back. But that’s the whole thing with JV volleyball … it’s development, so they’re learning.”
Going forward the club, which consists entirely of Grade 10-11 players, will continue to fine-tune and hone their skills in the weeks leading up to zones in November.
“We’ve got a good group of girls, it’s just a matter of getting things back on track. Some of these kids have had limited play due to the COVID situation over the past couple of years,” he added.
Sharks bite down on bronze
Considering it was their first action of the year, the SMS Sharks' run to the bronze medal was impressive.
The girls dominated their half of the draw, sweeping Barrhead, Onoway and MCHS, then dispatched Devon 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Following their three-set loss to the T-Birds in the semifinals, the Sharks rebounded with a 2-0 sweep of Barrhead to finish third.
First-year head coach Jordyn Walker, a SMS alumni and recent Bachelor of Education grad, said they were pleasantly surprised by their result and called it a great building block for the remainder of the year.
“We have more work to do, but we’re definitely happy with the outcome. All of the things we’ve been working on and practicing showed this weekend,” said Walker, who’s also a new mother.
“Considering this was the first time they’ve played together, I think they gelled really well.”
The Sharks have a young group with eight girls in Grades 9-11 and only one senior — they even have a Grade 8 girl who can practice with them, but can’t play at tournaments.
Walker said they’ve got a handful of tournaments lined up for the remainder of the year, with their annual home Joe Nestorovich tournament slated for Oct. 21-22, followed by a Barrhead tournament in November and then zones at the end of the month.
“I’m really enjoying the experience so far. It’s been great getting to know the girls and been great to be back in Westlock,” she added.