A volleyball battle is brewing in northeast Winnipeg.
As the Miles Macdonell Collegiate Buckeyes and Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Hawks continue to jostle for position in the varsity boys’ AAAA category, the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association is giving the Buckeyes the lead.
Miles Mac took over top spot from MBCI in the rankings released Oct. 8, a week after 6’4 middle Matthew Sawatzky was named the Home Run Sports Urban Athlete of the Week.
The Grade 12 student, who maintains an 85% academic average, said he’s not letting the award get to his head.
"It wasn’t, like, ‘Yay, I’m the best player ever,’" Sawatzky explained. "Someone thought I was a good player and gave me that award."
Miles Mac head coach Tim Au has officially coached Sawatzky for the past two seasons, but got a sneak peek during Sawatzky’s Grade 10 year when he joined Winman Volleyball Club, where Au serves as club director.
"For a kid who didn’t come with any volleyball experience, he jumped in right away, had a lot of raw talent," Au said. "He’s a big, strong kid. He has a strong work ethic. He’s worked really hard and become a major contributor to our team this year."
In addition to having the size to contribute offensively and defensively, Au lauded Sawatzky’s joy, which is easily seen on the court, making him a "subtle leader" on the team. Sawatzky agreed that his M.O. is to have a great time out on the court, and he hopes it spreads to the five teammates on the floor with him — and beyond.
"If I’m not having fun, it’s not going to be as good of an experience," Sawatzky said. "(I’d rather) take an enjoyable game and lose it than a game where we’re down and quiet and we win."
Powered by Sawatzky, the Buckeyes have posted an impressive start to the season, winning the U of M Invitational in late September and posting a runner-up finish at the Wesmen Invitational earlier this season. However, Au downplayed the No. 1 ranking, especially as Miles Mac is winless in its two matches against MBCI so far this season.
"They’re good athletes as well. They have a great left-side attack that we have to defend against," Au said, noting a lot of the Hawks play club volleyball under the Winman banner.
"There’s a nice, friendly rivalry between MBCI and Miles Mac."
In terms of his future, Sawatzky said he’s heard rumblings of university interest, but isn’t nearing an official decision, adding he’d love to continue his volleyball career at the post-secondary level.
But before that, there’s still the matter of trying to clip their opponents to the southwest — Miles Mac hosts MBCI on Oct. 23 at 5 p.m.