The Miles Macdonell Buckeyes junior varsity boys’ volleyball team managed to recapture the magic just in the nick of time.
After cruising through most of the season, winning four of six tournaments and their conference championship, the Buckeyes found themselves in a bit of a funk to start the provincial championship.
"We really slowed down towards the end," said coach Colin McDonald. "We didn’t really play to our best capabilities."
Whether it was a lack of focus, fatigue after a long season, or simply overconfidence, the Buckeyes bumbled their way to a round-robin loss to Steinbach that appeared to be a sign of bad things to come.
"I think we were bewildered at first," said captain Andrew Hector, a Grade 10 left side. "We didn’t know what had happened to us. It was a bombshell."
The Buckeyes won the rest of their round-robin games, but their play didn’t match the high standards they had set early in the season.
Heading into the final day, the coaches decided to shift the team’s focus back to one key element: having fun.
"We thought maybe the expectations we were putting on them were a little too high," McDonald said. "The pressure — these kids are only 15 years old — to process was a little too much."
Hector added: "There was not as much passion. Once we won the River East tournament, we started feeling like we were on top and we deserved it. Maybe we weren’t cocky, but definitely we were expecting to win."
The Buckeyes lost the first set of their semifinal against Lord Selkirk, but came back to win 15-9 in the third set. Then they got their chance to make up for their loss against Steinbach, beating the Sabres in two sets to capture the provincial title.
Hector won’t soon forget the pandemonium that followed Parker Thiessen’s service ace to clinch the winning point.
"It was surreal," he said. "I was just running, screaming… I wanted to give the guys a bug hug and congratulate everyone. You could feel all the emotion in the gym."
McDonald’s team is just the latest Miles Mac volleyball squad to win or go deep in a provincial championship. He points to the school’s culture as a big reason for the sustained success.
"Kids want to be here," he said. "It’s the environment created from phys-ed to intramurals to extra-curricular activities. The school is where people want to be."
The JV boys are a tightly-knit group that features seven players from the Winman club. Hector said the attitude going into the final was to make the most of the opportunity.
"It was like some of us might not get to experience again what it’s like to play in a provincial championship with the same group of guys we liked so much," he said. "We enjoyed the moment, and took it in stride. We played like we love the game."