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Owls' junior spikers cap banner year with NorWOSSA title

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If they were feeling any nerves, they certainly didn't let it show in how they played.

The Rainy River Owls' junior girls' volleyball team capped an undefeated year in NorWOSSA 'A' play by snaring gold in the championship game with a 2-0 win over the Pelican Falls Timberwolves last Thursday morning in Atikokan.

After going a perfect 10-0 in the regular season, the Owls kept that dominance rolling into the championship game and ended a great season with a trophy to their credit.

“All the hard work for sure, every single practice, every game, every trip, every tournament, every day they worked hard,” Owls' coach Hayley Arpin lauded of her team.

“They wanted to improve on their skills, they wanted to be successful and that paid off immensely. These young ladies have a lot of potential! Even if they don't see it, I definitely do.”

After the Owls had jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, the Timberwolves fought back to tie it.

Then after trading points with the Timberwolves, the Owls jumped out to a 6-4 lead and the set never came closer than within two points the rest of the way as Rainy River took it by a 25-14 count.

The second set saw an early back and forth where the score was knotted at 2-2 before the Owls went on a 16-5 run to lead it 18-7.

But Pelican Falls strung a rally together and nabbed five points in a row to close the gap to 18-12.

Then after letting their opponents get as close as 19-16, the Owls regained their composure and ended the match on a 6-1 run to win the second set 25-17.

Rainy River also won the third exhibition set by a 25-21 margin.

“I feel like the team played their best in this final championship game,” Arpin enthused.

"Of course with every single game, there comes nerves. Especially in championship matches, nerves are through the roof, so I feel like the girls controlled their nerves and kept their composure extremely well for a junior team.

“They were organized, smart, skilled, hard working and they played their game,” she lauded.

Moving forward, the Owls will be losing Madison Kreger, Tala Quran, Carenna Haw, Emma Low and Kennah Leblanc to the senior ranks.

That means next year's junior team will be made up of mostly Grade 9s, but Arpin is confident the returnees will help to guide the ship towards a possible title defence.

“There are only a few girls from this seasons team who will still be juniors but they are all extremely talented, so I'm sure they will play a huge role in the junior team next year,” she assured.

"Hopefully a lot of girls coming into Grade 9 will be an asset to their team next year! There are so many joys to take away from this season for me.

“Yes I was the coach, but these young ladies taught me a lot,” Arpin added.

“They're an amazing group of girls and I know I say that a lot but I can't say it enough. Specifically winning the 'AA' Dryden tournament was a huge joy for me, seeing the team come together like they did was an awesome feeling for me.”

As for the senior squad, they saw their season come to an end with a 3-0 loss to the host Voyageurs in the semifinals last Wednesday.

The Owls finished the regular season in third place with a 6-4 record and set up the date against second-place Atikokan, with the winner advancing to face the top-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) the following day.

The Voyageurs started the first set on a 10-0 run before the Owls rallied to trim the deficit to 13-7.

Atikokan regained its composure to lead 20-10 before the Owls again made another rally to cut it to 22-13.

But the hosts ended up prevailing 25-16.

“We got off to a slow start in the first set, but the girls recovered well and were able to make a game out of it,” Owls' coach Tyson Grinsell lauded.

“Atikokan is a really strong team and went on to win a gold medal. There were times where we had some momentum and were taking it to them, so the girls were happy with that.”

The early part of the second set was mostly back and forth, with the Voyageurs holding a slim 9-6 lead near the midpoint.

Atikokan then went on a 16-6 run to nab a 25-12 win to stake itself to a commanding 2-0 lead.

The Voyageurs then finished things off with a commanding win in the third and final set.

In boys' basketball action, meanwhile, the second-ranked Owls' juniors saw their season come to an end with a hard-fought 49-42 loss to the third-place Red Lake Rams.

Caleb Jack-Gibbons led the way offensively for the Owls in the season-ending loss with 20 points.

“It was a pretty back and forth game from beginning to end,” Grinsell recalled.

“It was actually the closest game I've ever had since I started coaching. Our biggest obstacle was playing in Atikokan's larger gym and having a short bench. "We only had six players for the semifinal game so they got really tired,” he admitted.

“They didn't quit, though, and it was a really close game. I was using timeouts just so they could come get a drink and a quick break.”

Rainy River had compiled a 5-3 record in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs.

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