The Mine Centre grade eight girls’ volleyball team knows it will face an uphill battle at the Eastern Ontario Bantam Volleyball Championships in Ottawa later this month.
The first hurdle was to drum up the necessary funds to cover the almost $6,000 price tag for the trip (supported largely by the Seine River and Nicickousemenecaning First Nations). Now the squad will have to take to the court against schools with much larger student bodies (more than 1,000 students in some cases).
But uphill battles are nothing new for this tiny school of just 98 kids (including junior kindergarten). In fact, Mine Centre won the silver medal at its first trip to a provincial tournament in 1988.
Coach Brian Love felt his team last year also had a good chance of advancing to this same tournament but that goal was dashed when the teachers’ strike interrupted their season.
“These kids are really a committed group who work hard and take their volleyball very seriously,” Love said last week before heading to the gym to watch his team play an exhibition game.
“More than a couple of the players have made trips, sometimes more than once, down to the volleyball camp at the [International] Peace Gardens [located on the Manitoba/North Dakota border].
“They work hard, and they put everything they have into it,” he stressed.
The team, consisting of just eight players, is led by the setting duo of Kelly and Shannon Kabatay, grade eight students who also happen to be cousins.
“Those two players have been playing with us since they were in grade five, like a lot of our players,” said Love, who’s coached at Mine Centre for the past 18 years. “It’s rare for me to have a lot of grade eight [players] on my team.”
The team also boasts the talents of Melanie Jones, a 5’7” outside hitter (whom Love called the “best” Bantam girl power hitter in Northwestern Ontario), and Jennifer Johnson, who stands 5’9”.
Love said both those players give Mine Centre a plethora of talent from the power side, which has enabled the squad to tinker with the quick hit in the middle—a style of offence rarely seen at the grade eight level.
He expects his team to be competitive in Ottawa, with a good chance of reaching the medal round.
Volleyball is just one of many sports played at Mine Centre School. Love said they also have a strong basketball program there, and the students also participate in cross-country running, soccer, and baseball.
He noted sports is an integral part of many of the students’ lives while growing up in such a remote area of Northwestern Ontario. But he also warned they must maintain an overall passing average in their subjects if they want to play on any of the school’s teams.
“It keeps the kids interested and wanting to go to school,” Love said of the sports program there.