Sabres winning together

Team unity key to ascension of Steinbach high school’s volleyball teams

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STEINBACH — Boston Thiessen won’t deny it — he did not expect the Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) Sabres varsity boys’ volleyball team to be this dominant.

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STEINBACH — Boston Thiessen won’t deny it — he did not expect the Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) Sabres varsity boys’ volleyball team to be this dominant.

It’s tough to blame Thiessen, the Grade 12 setter in his fourth year of volleyball at Steinbach Regional Secondary School. The Sabres, who have four graduating players on their roster, have courted just two healthy seniors in their starting seven recently among a swath of Grade 11s playing their first year of varsity ball.

Yet, the young team has remained the top-ranked quadruple-A varsity boys program in the province for most of the year, only recently losing their crown on Monday to Miles Macdonnell after suffering their first loss of the season on the weekend.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hudson Rempel of the Steinbach Regional Secondary School varsity volleyball team practices at the school.

“A lot of the younger guys, coming up, they lost some growing years because of COVID, so we’re definitely seeing that growth hugely in this year so far,” said Thiessen, a team captain. “It’s becoming a better year than we thought we were gonna have.

“We kind of just gelled right from the start. Other guys were trying out new positions, we didn’t know how that would go, but guys are filling in when we need them. And the friendships that are being made and whatnot, it’s just making us even better.”

The view from the top has been a nice change of scenery for Thiessen, who thought back to last season when a grinding Sabres squad ran into the buzzsaw that was undefeated Westgate Mennonite Collegiate. His squad is now the one slicing through opponents and among the favourites to win the provincial title.

“This year, it feels really good,” Thiessen said. As my last year, it’s kind of sad to see it end after this year but if we can get to that championship spot, then that’d be an awesome way to go out.

“Definitely our coaches this year have helped us grow and become the team that hopefully can move this level to provincials. We didn’t know too much what to expect going into the year and we’ve obviously had some great success so far so we’re hoping to keep that going throughout the year.”

Hudson Remple, also in his last year at SRSS, shares the same sentiments as Thiessen, with whom he’s played since Grade Six.

The force on the left side said the age gap between last season’s Grade 12 and Grade 11 players may have impacted the team’s ability to connect, but that this season everyone appears a bit more united.

“This season, we’ve had a lot more energy than other seasons,” said Remple, also a team captain. “We have a few guys that are just really loud and great at keeping our energy up on the bench. In timeouts, we really connect and think about everyone else, too. Bring positive energy and reassurance to the team. Everyone’s very close on our team, too. So that helps a lot. Everyone can just huddle up if we make a mistake and they’ll know that you got the next point.”

Head coach Joe Thiessen has started his tenure with the Sabres on a near-perfect note and acknowledged his team has what it takes to bring SRSS its sixth varsity boys volleyball provincial title and first since 2014-15.

“I think we found out very quickly this is a special group and that they are the epitome of the sum is great than the individual parts,” he said. “I think that’s what makes them special is they’ve always supported each other.”

Thiessen conceded the pace at which his team has improved each week has “surprised us all,” but credited the team’s player-led philosophy for their success, starting with the four seniors, who he said has allowed the Grade 11s to play their role.

“For me as a coach, the best leadership that I can provide is an opportunity for players to lead on the floor in games and to learn from their mistakes and to discuss it. So that’s something that happens on the floor, where there may be a miscue or a misunderstanding. Players come together, they talk about it and they’re able to learn and grow through that.”

Ashlee Friesen is trying to will the Sabre girls’ varsity volleyball team to its first provincial title since 1990-91.

Friesen, the Grade 12 force on the right side, has captained the girls to a No.2 ranking in the province’s quad-A division this season. The Sabre girls, like the boys, have held the top spot for most of the season but lost bragging rights on Monday to Vincent Massey (Winnipeg) after falling for just the second time this season.

“It’s awesome. We are a really good team and we have a lot of strength,” said Friesen, a four-year player at SRSS. “Good passing, good hitting and good serving, and that’s all you really need. We’re really close as a team and that helps a lot. You need that connection to play.”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ashlee Friesen, of the Steinbach Regional Secondary School, is trying to will the Sabre girls’ varsity volleyball team to its first provincial title since 1990-91.

“We’re all really good friends. And for volleyball, at least in my experience, you need that connection with your team to be good. You can have the skill but if you don’t like you each other you’re not going to be good.”

Friesen is among four other seniors on the team, all of whom have played together since their junior varsity days in Grade Nine. While Friesen said she knew the team would be a good one this year, she expressed amazement for how quickly they gelled, placing second in their first tournament together after no practices following tryouts.

“I’m really excited to see how it goes, to see how far we can get with this team,” Friesen said. “I think we’re all just really happy that we’re really close and we all have that good connection.”

“I feel that can take us really far.”

Head coach Amy Toews paused for a moment with a grin while trying to recall an example of adversity her team has faced this season. But her efforts were to no avail, as it’s been “pretty smooth sailing” for her girls.

“I mean, it’s gonna sound a bit cliché, but being a rural school, we’re not always necessarily thought of as one of the best,” said Toews, in her sixth season heading the varsity girls program. “We have to prove ourselves a bit more than some other larger school programs that have had some success. So maybe just a little bit of an underdog mentality, like we have to prove ourselves.

“This is a pretty special group. I’d say it’s more than just talent for them, it’s the fact that they all get along, work well together. They have a certain charismatic energy to this group that I’ve never really experienced before when coaching a group, so they kind of pump each other up and it works well for them.”

It’s fair to assume the underdog tag can be stripped from the powerhouse with a few games remaining in their regular season, as the Sabres find themselves among the favourites to win it all.

“Do we have the potential to win provincials? Sure. Our goal right now is to focus on the process and not so much on the outcome. I think the outcome will speak for itself if we focus more on the process,” Toews said.

“That’s our focus right now: our unity and the journey together.”

jfreysam@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam
Reporter

Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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Updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2022 3:20 PM CDT: place line added

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