Sabres won’t be denied
Steinbach to face top-ranked St. Paul’s in MHSAA AAAA varsity boys volleyball title game
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The Steinbach Sabres had a taste of semifinal heartbreak in 2021. A year later, they weren’t about to be denied again.
Sparked by a devastating hitting performance from outsides Nik Reimer and Hudson Rempel, the third-ranked Sabres swept the No. 2 Vincent Massey (Winnipeg) Trojans 25-18, 25-22, 25-23 in varsity boys semifinal action at the Boston Pizza AAAA Provincial Volleyball Championships Thursday night.
The Sabres, eliminated by the eventual champion Westgate Wings in 2021, performed like battle-tested vets in crunch time, although both teams had a case of jitters early in the match.
Rempel and setter Boston Thiessen, starters as Grade 11s on last year’s squad, were calm and composed when they needed to be.
“Definitely less errors than last time, especially being a Grade 11 kid,” said Boston Thiessen. “We kind of knew our roles and knew what we were going into and so (the experience) just played a big part today.”
Added Steinbach head coach Joe Thiessen: “We’ve talked about (last year) a little bit. I mean, those guys lead our charge and you could see that tonight again. Those two guys are the heart of the team and I think they learned a few things last year, so they’re carrying that forward.”
The Sabres played with a lead for the first two sets but trailed 18-13 in the third before roaring back to eke out the win.
“I thought we were pretty good tonight,” said the 6-5 Reimer, a Grade 11 rookie. “That third set became a little rough but I’m really proud of the way we fought back and were able to close out that victory… The nerves are part of it. It’s a big gym and a lot different than we’re used to and it’s a semifinal for provincials. I mean, that’s always intense.”
The Sabres advanced to Monday’s 8 p.m. final at Investors Group Athletic Centre where they will face the top-ranked St. Paul’s Crusaders. Steinbach is chasing the second AAAA varsity boys title in school history after winning it all in 2014.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” said Joe Thiessen. “We’ve never sort of wavered too much. Whatever the score is, as long as it’s within reach we just keep we just keep battling. And so that part, I’ve gotta give the guys credit.”
Massey’s most dangerous attackers, Everett Smith and Owen Weeks, were unable to dominate on this night.
“Steinbach did a very good job,” said Trojans head coach Marshall Jones. “They played well. They served the ball really well, which put a lot of pressure on our serve receive and then we just made a lot of unforced errors, a lot of attacking errors, some untimely service misses and then just kind of let that third set slip away.”
The Crusaders earned a trip to the title match with a 25-22, 26-24, 18-25, 25-21 triumph over the No. 5 Lord Selkirk Royals in Thursday’s late semifinal.
St. Paul’s will be seeking its fifth AAAA volleyball crown, having last ruled the province in 2015.
“We kind of pieced it together there,” said Crusaders head coach Dustin Spiring. “We didn’t come out with our best game. I mean, the first few sets I thought we played OK. The third and fourth sets we really didn’t play well. We didn’t pass well and that led to a lot of faults.”
The game turned in the pivotal second set. The Royals were leading 22-19 but the Crusaders crawled back and took the set 26-24. Then in the decisive fourth set, 6-6 outside Jack Taylor supplied five kills as St. Paul’s rallied from an early 10-7 deficit to win.
“We tried to make some adjustments to make it a little bit easier on us, we simplified a little bit and in the end they executed,” said Spiring. “To get that second set was massive… Things can go way different if we don’t do that.”
Ousting the pesky Royals with the stakes so high was a difficult task, said St. Paul’s Grade 11 setter Flynn Miller.
“We’re a very young team,” said Miller. “For some of us, it’s the first time ever playing in a championship, first time playing in a high-stress game. So we had to kind of adjust to the atmosphere but over time we’ll get it.”
In Monday’s varsity girls final, the No. 4 Sturgeon Heights Huskies meet the second-seeded Vincent Massey (Winnipeg) Trojans. Game time is 6 p.m. at Investors Group Athletic Centre.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.