Each match is a learning experience and sometimes the lessons you need to learn most come from tough losses.
The Muskie senior girls' volleyball team experienced its share of disappointment last week as the black-and-gold compiled a 1-3 record in Pool 'A' play to finish fourth and wind up on the consolation side of the bracket at the OFSAA championships in Amherstburg.
Fort High then ended tourney play with a four-set loss to Sydenham in the consolation side quarter-finals last Tuesday afternoon.
The set scores were 20-25, 24-26, 25-16, and 19-25.
“So we were done Tuesday night,” noted Muskie head coach Duane Roen.
“On Wednesday, we did the typical mall trip for the kids," he added. ”But we [also] did have a nice team supper and we had some good conversations about next steps and what needs to happen.
“The last game [against Sydenham], I think we could have won,” Roen said.
"But when the team was getting closer to 25 points, you could see the looks on the girls' faces because they knew it could be the last game of volleyball for some of them.
“That was tough for them, tough for all of us, because I've worked with some of these kids for three years now,” he noted.
The Muskies opened round-robin play last Monday morning with pair of straight-sets losses to the host General Amherst (5-25/17-25) and Corpus Christi (16-25/8-25).
“We travelled down to Thunder Bay on Saturday and then we got on the first early flight, I think it was 8 a.m. or something, flying out of Thunder Bay to Toronto,” Roen recalled.
"And then a three-hour layover and then we flew to Windsor.
“So it was a really long day that Sunday and then we got there for pictures and then we had to go to a banquet, so the kids were up at about 4:30 in the morning [on Monday] and when we walked out onto the court, you could just tell they were beat,” he admitted.
“Something I'm gonna recommend, that if there is a lot of travel to get to where we're going, that we go a day ahead so that the kids have a little time to adjust,” Roen said.
“You know, it's the biggest tournament of the year, the biggest championships of the year, and to go in there tired and it's already stressful enough,” he reasoned.
“So we played General Amherst first right off the hop, which was the home team, and I've played them before at OFSAA—they're a good team—but honestly, I didn't think they were that much stronger than we were,” Roen said.
"But we came out flat as could be.
“The one thing I did find, and I've been mentioning this to the kids all along, is that everything is simply faster at OFSAA,” he stressed.
"The balls are going to be served harder when you play against the stronger teams.
“It's just that they are just stronger, physically stronger, they've been training and have done pre-season and post-season, and I'm sure they're all in the clubs there in southern Ontario,” Roen added.
“So it's just a pass that we normally would make off a serve from a kid from Kenora [but] it's coming that much faster and the angles change a little bit.”
But the weary Muskies turned things around with a straight-sets win of their own Tuesday morning against Cité des Jeunes (Kapuskasing) by scores of 25-13 and 25-6.
Fort High then ended round-robin play with a straight-sets loss to Mother Teresa (London) by scores of 17-25 and 18-25 before bowing out to Sydenham in the consolation quarter-finals that afternoon.
“One thing I've been mentioning all season is that against a really strong team, you can't afford to give them three or four points at a time before you can get yourself out of that particular serve or rotation,” Roen stressed.
“And that's what happened against a lot of the teams we played last week," he noted. ”They would get a good server, or they'd have a good swing and come out of the left side or middle, and it's just something that we just couldn't defend.
“The hardest part was that without getting a good pass up to Alina [Eldridge], we had a really hard time running our offence, which is our big strength,” Roen said.
“We're a better offensive team, I think, than a defensive one this year.”
Despite not finishing as well they wanted to at OFSAA, Roen said he was proud of his squad's effort against the province's best.
He's also hopeful his athletes can build off the experience moving forward.
“The kids were disappointed because they wanted to do better. I wanted them, of course, to do better but at the end of the day, it is what it is,” Roen reasoned.
“We had some good conversations about what it takes to compete at OFSAA," he said. ”And they really got to see that everything is faster, the serves are harder, the hits are harder, and the teams recycle the balls better than the teams at home do.
"So the Grade 11s, I hope they have an idea of what they need to do for next year, and I'm hoping they will pass that on to the Grade 10 kids and they will start training now.
“We have a program for them to do, and the kids that have been doing the program have been doing well and get a lot of court time,” Roen noted.
“But I was really proud of the way they played and their sportsmanship," he lauded. "They came out there and they gave everything they could.”
Roen also noted the Muskies will be losing seven players to graduation in Eldridge, Pasquel Shortreed, Gwen Macdonald, Samara Payne, Alex Spuzak, Hailee Barnard, and Rhonda Degagne.
The expected returnees are Grace Petsnick, Carmen Hebert, Jamie Spencer, Simone Payne, and Katrina Slomke.
But with the talent moving up from the junior ranks, coupled with the returnees' OFSAA experience, Roen is intrigued with what next year's team could look like.
“There's a strong core group from Grade 10 coming up and I think it'll be a good mix for next year to get that crew going,” he predicted.
“We're going to try to keep the club kids training and hopefully we'll get some more incentive for a few more kids to get rolling.”