A lack of communication ultimately became their undoing, but the Muskie senior girls' volleyball team still put in a great effort over the weekend and came away with the silver medal at the annual St. Patrick Volleyball Festival in Thunder Bay.
The Muskies went a perfect 4-0 through round robin play and didn't suffer their first loss of the tournament until the championship game on Saturday.
“We played very well this weekend,” Muskie coach Duane Roen lauded.
“We worked on jump floats, communication and reading on both sides of the court.”
There were 15 teams in three pools of five teams at the tourney.
The Muskies were slotted into Pool 'B', where they beat every team they faced in straight sets.
“We finished first in round robin (we won all our matches and had the best points for (200) vs. points against (108) overall),” Roen noted.
“Two other teams also won all of their matches but had a higher points for versus against.”
Fort High opened round robin play with a 25-14/25-9 win over the St. Ignatius Falcons before then downing the Westgate Tigers 25-17/25-16.
Then after dropping the Sioux Lookout Warriors 25-12/25-12, the Muskies ended Pool 'B' play with a 25-15/25-13 victory over the Nipigon Lakers.
That put the Muskies into Saturday's quarterfinals against the Marathon Falcons where they again came out on top (27-15/25-17).
Fort High then dispatched the Tigers in straight sets in the semifinals(25-18/25-14), where they advanced to take on the Atikokan Voyageurs in the championship game.
But the Muskies' winning ways came to an end as Atikokan secured the gold medal with a 25-18/25-23 win.
“We really gelled as a team in the semifinals against Westgate. Throughout the round robin, we played the entire team and the results show the depth and skill level of this group,” Roen said.
"With the exception of Atikokan, no team was able to get more than 18 points against us all weekend. Atikokan plays a fast-paced game and is very aggressive at serving.
“We fell behind in both sets early and played most of the match catching up,” he recalled.
"Our offensive timing was not in sync, which Atikokan took advantage of. Our communication was nonexistent and we did not take enough risk to change the momentum, and lost.
“A loss at this time of the season was the reality check we needed,” Roen reasoned.
“We have time to correct these issues before the NorWOSSA playoffs [at Fort High] on the 21st. I view this loss as a learning experience we need to take to heart, build on and move forward.”
The Muskies had gone into the tourney fresh off a 2-1 win over the host Warriors in Sioux Lookout in NorWOSSA play last Wednesday.
The set scores were 25-14, 24-26 and 25-9, which saw the black-and-gold improve to a league-best 7-0.
“We played a solid first set controlling the tempo and taking some more risks, jump serving, running new plays,” Roen said.
“We were ahead in the second set but ran into issues near the end, giving up a strong lead and eventually losing. After a 'pep' talk, the Muskies regrouped and dominated the third set to an easy 25-9 win.”
The Muskie juniors also competed at the St. Patrick Volleyball Festival over the weekend, winding up in ninth place overall.
“The team was inconsistent during the tournament in Thunder Bay, the kids would play solid at points and earn well-deserved leads during the matches,” Muskie coach Bob Kowal noted.
"However, as the match progressed, it appeared many of the kids were feeling the pressure of trying to close out the match and would make critical mistakes.
“In particular, serving errors and poor decision making by the team were really the down fall of the girls the whole weekend,” he recalled.
"This was very apparent in our first playoff match where we took a lead of 22-16 but squeaked out a 25-23 victory. The girls failed to make a serve after that point and made an apparent easy victory a real nail-biter. You could see it affect players and although we took another early lead in the second set, the girls were rattled and played very tentative.
“Hammarskjold [Vikings] deserved to win as they continued to be aggressive with their hitting and serving where we continued to tip and serve inconsistently.”
In boys' basketball action last Wednesday in Sioux Lookout, meanwhile, both Muskie squads came away with wins.
The senior squad struggled a little bit defensively, but got the stops they needed to pull out a 56-45 win to improve to a league-best 7-0.
Mike Vanderaa led the way offensively for the Muskies with a 19-point performance while Wyatt Richards netted 10 points, Will Richards had nine, and Sean Huziak and Caleb Allan both notched eight apiece.
“I thought the guys competed well despite it being tough sledding offensively,” Muskie co-coach Bryce Coyle noted.
“Sioux got after it on defence and mixed things up with some pressing and zone looks at times and the guys kept their composure and kept battling to secure the win.”
As for the juniors, they improved league record to a league-best 6-1 with a 68-33 romp over the Warriors.
All four Muskie court sports teams were slated to resume NorWOSSA action yesterday afternoon here against the Kenora Broncos, with the outcomes not known as of press time.
The Muskies then will head to Dryden for the regular-season finale tomorrow against the Eagles before hosting the NorWOSSA playoffs on Feb. 21 at Fort High.