Finishing the regular season on a winning note was top priority for the Rainy River Owl junior boys' volleyball team last week.
It was mission accomplished as the Owls downed the visiting Atikokan Voyageurs 2-0 to finish the NorWOSSA 'A' season with a 6-4 record.
That puts Rainy River into third place, with the playoffs looming today and tomorrow in Kenora.
“I think we are going to play against Pelican Falls in the semifinals, we haven't beat them yet this season but third time's a charm,” noted Owls' coach Tyson Grinsell.
"Our last game was very close, so if we play our best then we should be able to win.
“Finishing the regular season with a win is important because it will help the kids with their confidence going into playoffs,” he reasoned.
“[The St. Thomas Aquinas Saints] finished the league in first place and we're the only team that has beat them this season. We need to show up to playoffs with the mindset that we can beat any team that we have to play.”
Ryder Sinninghe came up with some clutch serving to help the Owls build a 10-4 lead in the first set against the Voyageurs on Halloween at RRHS before they took it by a convincing 25-7 margin.
Rainy River then closed things out with a 25-14 win in the second set.
Because the Owls won the first two sets, the third set was exhibition and didn't matter so the teams decided to combine rosters for a spirited matchup.
“Unfortunately, the Atikokan junior boys' team hasn't had a coach all season and hasn't had much success,” said Grinsell.
"I used to coach that team but no one else volunteered to coach when I came to teach in Rainy River.
“I wanted them to have fun in the last set of their season, and I wanted to challenge the players on my team with having to play against each other,” he added.
Grinsell feels as though the Owls started the season as a very inexperienced team, with half of the roster being Grade 9s, so this is the first team they have played on at the high school level.
He also noted that the Grade 10s on the team didn't have a successful season last year and haven't experienced playoffs before now.
“What stands out the most about this season is the amount of learning and improvement that all of the players have shown,” Grinsell lauded.
“They have really come together as a team and developed their volleyball skills.”
As for the Owl seniors, they ended the regular season with a 3-0 loss to the Voyageurs on Thursday to finish with a 4-6 record.
That unfortunately left the Owls missing the playoffs as they finished fourth in the standings.
“They went into it with a good attitude. We knew that we did not make playoffs, yet they did not just roll over and give them the match,” Owls' coach Guy Arpin lauded.
“They fought hard for it.”
Arpin noted that the Voyageurs have a couple of really strong hitters that if you don't get some blocks on them, they can really control a game.
“I felt that we got our hands on a lot of blocks and slowed them down,” he praised of his team.
It was a rebuilding year for the Owls and Arpin was happy with how the boys came together as a team this season despite not making the NorWOSSA playoffs.
“As a rebuilding year, it is always tough,” he admitted.
"We had guys learning new positions and some starters were playing their first year of volleyball. Overall, I enjoyed the year and I think that the boys did well.
“Our goal was to make playoffs,” he stressed.
“We ended up one position shy. I feel that had we played our game against Pelican Falls, we could have been a contender!”
Moving forward, the Owls will be losing Hayden Haw, Liam Pearson, Will Low, Brendan Wilson, Carter St. Pierre, and Aidan Tom to graduation.
But the squad will have three returning players, along with four potential players moving up from the junior ranks, next season.