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Volleyball trophies for the taking: Portage's loss is Warriors' gain

Westwood volleyball squad bolstered by Neufeld

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Brandon Sutherland of the Lord Selkirk Royals and Shayna Staerk of the Mennonite Brethren Hawks with their respective high school championship trophies.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Brandon Sutherland of the Lord Selkirk Royals and Shayna Staerk of the Mennonite Brethren Hawks with their respective high school championship trophies. Photo Store

At only 17 and with one year of high school left, Tyneille Neufeld decided it was time to follow the volleyball dreams running through her head.

So halfway through Grade 11, the teen packed up, left her parents' house in Portage la Prairie, and moved in with her sister on Winnipeg's western edge. The move brought the left-side hitter closer to her club team, she said, and also gave her a chance to play for the robust Westwood Warriors high school program.

"It's been good," she said. "A little bit weird not living with my parents, but it's been a good experience."

The goal, of course, is to attract more attention from Canadian university squads. She's hoping to find a place to play in B.C., and has already had interest from scouts out West.

Before that, though, Neufeld has a chance to wrap her high-school career on a high note: Tonight at 8 p.m. at Investors Group Athletic Centre, the fourth-ranked Warriors will take on the top-seed Mennonite Brethren Hawks in the Manitoba high school AAAA semifinal.

It's not often a player of Neufeld's calibre falls into a coach's lap like that, and adding her to a tight core that came out of Westwood's junior varsity program helped shore up the squad.

"We're happy to have her, that's for sure," said Warriors coach Erica Reimer. "She's a very talented athlete. To add her into the mix, on top of these already amazing players that I have, was icing on the cake."

Of course, there are eight teams singing the same hopeful refrains this week, as the boys and girls Final Four look to pare down to a final two.

Also on the girls side, the second-ranked Neelin Spartans from Brandon will take on the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes at 6 p.m. tonight. The boys' semifinal games start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, when the Lord Selkirk Royals face the defending champion Mennonite Brethren Hawks.

At 8 p.m. on Thursday, the top-seeded St. Paul's Crusaders will face the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes in the other semifinal.

On that note, longtime Crusaders coach Lloyd Voth also knows what it is to have a talented player drop right into his squad. Among the Crusaders' ferocious senior core is Bruce Akubukaka, a provincial all-star with a huge jump who transferred to St. Paul's from Daniel McIntyre this season.

For the squad, Akubukaka's arrival added more height to an already tall team. For the player, a chance to play under Voth -- who has coached 34 years -- was a big part of the allure.

"He's one of the best coaches," said Akubukaka, 17. "He's old-school, so he knows a lot of stuff. I like the old-school coaching."

Now, the Crusaders are in the hunt for their first championship since 2007. First, they'll have to make it past the fifth-seeded Buckeyes, who are just two years removed from their 2011 championship win. Though they may be seeded under St. Paul's, coach Tim Au doesn't see the Buckeyes as an underdog.

"I think there are six teams in this province that were really good, and everyone battled back and forth all year," he said. "I definitely think anyone can win."

The winners of today's and Thursday's semifinal games will face off in the provincial AAAA high school volleyball championship games on Monday. The girls' final begins at 6 p.m. at Investors Group Centre at the University of Manitoba, with the boys' final following at 8 p.m. Admission for the semifinals is $5, for the finals is $7, and a tournament pass will set you back just $10. All championship games will be televised on Shaw TV, albeit with a 30-minute delay.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 C4

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