As the Mine Centre Thunderbirds girls’ volleyball team prepared to head off to the Eastern Ontario Bantam championships in Ottawa last weekend, head coach Brian Love knew his players would have to elevate their level of play against the bigger, more talented schools.
And the Thunderbirds did just that--reaching the quarter-finals of the 22-team ‘A’ division before bowing out 15-13, 12-15, and 15-11 to the Volants Bleus of Gatineau, Que.
Mine Centre ended up eighth overall.
It was Mine Centre’s first appearance at the provincial tournament since it won a silver medal back in 1988--a remarkable feat for a school with a population of just 98 students.
The Thunderbirds played well against the Volants Bleus but it was their failure to hang on to leads in both the first and third sets which proved to be their undoing.
Leading 13-11 in the opening set, Mine Centre allowed the Volants Bleus to score four-straight points to earn that important first win in the best-of-three showdown.
But the biggest disappointment came in the final set when the Thunderbirds squandered leads of 8-1 and 11-6 to fall short of advancing to the final four.
Love admitted his team, which won six sets against just two losses to finish in second spot in their pool, may have been guilty of letting the pressure of the playoff game take over against the Gatineau squad.
“All the games were close and with the teams down to just eight, you could have picked anybody to win,” said Love, who has coached at Mine Centre for the past 18 years.
“What killed us in the quarter-final is our serving fell apart,” he noted. “I think our girls felt the pressure but I do not want to take anything away from our team, or the other teams.”
Mine Centre opened the tournament last Friday by splitting a pair of sets with Russell Public School (Ottawa), losing the first one 15-13 before winning the second 15-12.
(Russell went on to finish first in their pool with a 7-1 record).
The Thunderbirds next swept Leo Cote (Nepean) by identical 15-9 scores, then split with Greenbank (Ottawa) by scores of 13-15 and 15-12.
They wrapped up the round-robin by sweeping Queen Elizabeth (Ottawa) 15-10 and 15-7.
Love said because of the immense talent of many of the teams they faced, the Thunderbirds quickly realized they would have to change their style of play to stay competitive.
But he added they didn’t miss a beat, playing a more finesse style based on soft tips and fakes at the net as opposed to more of a direct, hard-hitting approach.
“It was absolutely a good team effort and our girls raised their game to a new level,” said Love, noting he will have six starters back again next year.
“Instead of a pass, set, hit game, we had to make a change in our strategy immediately and we did a good job of doing that.”
Love said he was impressed with the way his team, which included Kelly Kabatay, Shannon Kabatay, Carmen Jones, Melanie Jones, Jennifer Johnson, Hilary Johnson, Leanne Potson, Ashley Potson, Shawna Jones, and Nancy Sue Jones, adjusted to the change in its offensive attack.
He also predicted they will be a much better team next year after the experience of playing at such a high-calibre tournament.
And as for those players who will be moving up to high school volleyball next year, Love felt they all should become integral parts of the Muskie junior girls’ team--and eventually the senior one.
Love also was equally impressed with the support the team received from the community to help raise the necessary funds to travel to Ottawa.
He praised the support of local businesses, and the help from the Seine River and Nicickousemenecaning First Nations.