Crusaders the team to beat

Late-season success saw St. Paul’s climb provincial varsity boys volleyball rankings

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The St. Paul’s Crusaders didn’t win a tournament until late October, but that breakthrough has made them the team to beat entering the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association AAAA varsity boys volleyball championship.

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The St. Paul’s Crusaders didn’t win a tournament until late October, but that breakthrough has made them the team to beat entering the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association AAAA varsity boys volleyball championship.

The top-ranked Crusaders, led by the dynamic hitting of Jack Taylor and crafty setting of Flynn Miller, face the No. 5 Lord Selkirk Royals in provincial semifinal action at Investors Group Athletic Centre Thursday at 8 p.m.

“Our team has come a long way this year,” said St. Paul’s head coach Dustin Spiring. “I think we’ve always regarded ourselves as a top team in the province and I think we did well in the St. Vital Invitational and that’s what gave us the No. 1 ranking. I think our team is mentally and physically prepared.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St. Paul’s Crusaders towering Jack Taylor’s offence can be a nightmare for opposing teams to defend against.

Taylor’s booming offence can be a headache to defend against but this week the Grade 12 student is more concerned about keeping errors to a minimum against Selkirk.

“I think our biggest thing is that we can make a lot of mistakes and we tend to let teams back in the game,” said Taylor. “So if we keep our serves in and stay off the net and just play clean volleyball, I feel like we’re good enough. If we don’t let teams back in, they can’t beat us.”

The Royals, who look to Jaxon Van Kooten to spark their offence, will need to be in top form to knock off St. Paul’s.

“They’ve got great players right across the board,” said Selkirk head coach Jeff Sarcello of the Crusaders. “There’s not just one guy that they’re totally relying on. They’ve got a good balanced offence with a lot of guys swinging on that ball. They defend really well. They serve really well. Of all the teams, they are probably the most consistent performers out there.”

Plotting a way to stop Taylor wasn’t much of a concern a year ago but the 17-year-old, a high level junior golfer, has gone through a growth spurt that has added four inches to his frame — he’s up to 6-6 — and made him a much more dangerous presence at the net.

“He’s got a lot of natural ability,” said Spiring, a former University of Manitoba player now in his second year of high school coaching. “Everything comes from his golf game, right? He’s able to pick up different skills very easily and kind of transfer the coaching that goes with it. He’s always been very skilled and when you’re undersized, usually you develop those skills and then I think he’s just kept with it as he’s grown.”

Taylor, who once pursued the idea of a college golf scholarship, could be changing course.

“The idea of playing university volleyball wasn’t really a thing until, like, this year, so it’s something that I’m gonna try to look into for sure,” he said.

St. Paul’s upended the Vincent Massey (Winnipeg) Trojans in the St. Vital final, giving the Trojans the No. 2 seed at provincials.

Vincent Massey, with only three Grade 12 players, meets a deep Steinbach Sabres squad, which is ranked No. 3, in Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal.

“I think we were (ranked) four or five going into the last tournament of the year and just had a really good tournament at the St. Vital and ended up losing in the final there to St. Paul’s,” said Massey head coach Marshall Jones. ” I think anybody in the group that’s in this final four is going to have a chance.”

The Sabres will put a talented crew on the court, including setter Boston Thiessen (ranked seventh in the Free Press poll), Grade 11 right side Nik Reimer (No. 10) and honourable mention Hudson Rempel.

Thiessen would love to cap a season of big moments by capturing a provincial championship.

“We had a couple tournament wins, which was nice to kick off the season with for sure,” said Thiessen. “And then now this last zone final win against Dakota was a really tight match that was really fun with our big crowd.”

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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