The starting lineup for the defending provincial champion Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Hawks varsity boys’ volleyball team is entirely new this year.
But that doesn’t mean the players are unfamiliar with one another.
Head coach Brian Plett, in his 32nd year of coaching the team, explained the unique situation the school has — with programs beginning in Grade 6, players begin working their way up the ladder together.
"We have very dedicated and very competent coaches at those younger levels," Plett said. "These guys have been playing together, and have been coached by someone who’s very passionate about volleyball."
Having the winning pedigree breeds further success for MBCI, as Plett noted the bench players are able to regularly sharpen their skills against some of the top players around.
"They competed in practice every day against a very solid group of volleyball players," Plett said. "This year, the Grade 11 guys are competing against these guys every day in practice, so hopefully, next year this kind of strength and depth will continue."
The system has helped the perennial contenders, as they are once again in the thick of things, maintaining the No. 2 ranking in the province behind rival Miles Macdonell as of the MHSAA rankings released Oct. 22. The Hawks have already won the University of Winnipeg Invitational, and were runners-up to Wisconsin’s Marquette High School at the St. Vital Invitational.
Plett noted playing in the Kilcona Peguis Athletic Conference benefits the team, as four of the top five teams in the province are in the division.
"Almost every night we play, we’re playing one of the top teams," Plett said. "There are no easy nights. There’s no easy competition."
Even the strongest programs will occasionally get nicked up on occasion, as the Hawks did earlier this season, slipping from the top of the rankings to the No. 2 position.
"We had a lot of success at the beginning of the year, but it seems like we’re just getting out of a slump right now," said Grade 12 right-side Sam Klassen. "We’ve started to play a lot better in the last few matches, so we’re starting to get out of that slump, and hopefully we peak at provincials.
"I don’t think we got cocky, but I think we got a little lazy in how we did stuff, and then we started losing some confidence. But I think we’ve been starting to gain that back."
One of the back-and-forths has been with Miles Mac, as the Hawks took the first two matches before the Buckeyes scored the last two, including a four-set victory on Oct. 23. With both schools contributing heavily to the Winman club, players on both sides are more than familiar with one another.
"I’ve played on a team with quite a few of their guys. We don’t hate each other or anything," said team captain Carter Bergen, a left-side.