The varsity girls volleyball team at Garden City Collegiate is gliding into the Kilcona Peguis Athletic Conference playoffs with an impressive 9-1 record. The team’s sole loss came against Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, which went undefeated.
The Fighting Gophers chalked up their success to a number of factors.
"We’ve kind of just found our groove and the girls have been playing very, very well. Very consistent," said head coach Marlee Bragg. "We’ve been doing a good job of mixing up our attack. And I think that’s been a key to our success when we’ve played some of those other top teams."
On the defensive side of the ball, Bragg said the team refuses to quit on plays, which makes them tough to score against.
"We don’t really let a lot of balls hit the floor without someone going for them. We’ve just kind of been scrappy in the back and making sure we’re in our right defensive zones. That’s been pretty key for us because we’re not a very big team. But we work really, really hard to make sure that that ball does not hit our side of the floor."
Since these offensive and defensive strategies both rely on solid teamwork — everyone being in good defensive positioning, recovering control of the ball after a solid dig and co-ordinating a variety of attacks — Bragg said the Fighting Gophers’ success lies at least partly in team morale.
"We’re like a family," she said. "It’s just really nice to see a group of 14 girls come together and just be so supportive of one another. Whether it’s the seven that are on the floor or the seven who are on the bench, it’s great to see the support."
Bragg said the beginning of the year was a bit of a "roller coaster," as the team reassembled after nearly two years away from the sport, due to the pandemic. People were excited to hit the court once more, but it had also been a long time since many had even held a volleyball in their hands.
But after some growing pains in early tournament play, the Fighting Gophers burst into league play ready to go.
"I think it’s gone great," said Lexi Matenchuk, who plays middle. She, too, cited the team’s togetherness as a reason for their success.
"Most of these girls, we’ve been playing together since junior varsity. So, there is a lot of chemistry with all of us," she said. "It’s like a family and they just make it feel welcoming and great to play."
Now the team sets its sights on their first playoff game, a KPAC semifinal that will pit the Gophers against either the Lord Selkirk Royals or the Maples Marauders on Nov. 17.
Matenchuk said she believes in the team’s odds.
"I think we have a pretty good chance of winning, and I’m feeling good about it," she said.
If the team can win that game and then again in the final, they’ll earn a ticket to the provincial championships. Players returning from the junior varsity team two years ago will be familiar with that experience, Matenchuk said.
"That was pretty exciting. To have that happen again would be great," she said.
If the Fighting Gophers do not win the league playoffs, they can still apply for a wildcard position at provincials, but would not be guaranteed a spot.
Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for The Times. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies.