Duncalfe leads Huskies to title game
Strugeon Heights to face Winnipeg’s Vincent Massey in AAAA varsity girls championship
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The Sturgeon Heights varsity girl’s volleyball team was David, but leaned on a Goliath of its own to advance to its first AAAA provincial championship game since Sturgeon Creek and Silver Heights amalgamated to form Sturgeon Heights.
The Huskies conquered Vincent Massey (Brandon) three sets to one (25-22; 21-25; 25-20; 25-20) in the Manitoba High School Athletic Association varsity girls volleyball semifinals in front of a raucous crowd at Investors Group Athletic Centre on Wednesday.
Sturgeon Heights, which entered the playoffs as the fourth seed with a 30-10 record from the regular season, gave the top-seeded Vikings all they could handle, backed by star left-side Brooke Duncalfe.
Duncalfe, who has been the centre of the Huskies’ offence all season, ended the match with an astounding 26 kills. Despite the Vikings dedicating more blockers at the net to stymie the offensive weapon, it led to just four blocks on the night and the Huskies finding other weapons to set up.
“She’s a force at the net, she’s physical, she gives us a lot of options on our attack,” said head coach Ryan Vermette, who’s headed the Huskies’ program since 2017. “When the blockers are taking one option away, we go to the other options. She passes well, she’s a good player.”
Vermette said a fire had been under Duncalfe in the past week, but couldn’t disclose what that motivation was from.
“I’m gonna keep that between us… there was something that motivated her a bit. She definitely played well tonight.”
Duncalfe set the tone early, as the Huskies burst out of the gate to a 13-7 lead, led by an astounding five kills by the left side. While the Vikings punched back to the tune of eight of the next 12 points, ultimately drawing the score as close as 23-22, the hole would be too big from which to dig themselves, as Duncalfe led all players with 10 kills en route to the Huskies taking the first frame 25-22.
“She’s kind of our go-to girl. When we’re struggling, we’ll give it to her and she’ll put it away,” said Chelsea Stewner, the Grade 12 setter.
While Duncalfe continued to get hers in the second set with another six kills, the Vikings started to find some answers to her challenges, blocking two of her spikes, while they struck a groove on offence.
Indeed, the Vikings began to look like the top-seeded team that dominated league play throughout the regular season in a frame that saw five lead changes. Vincent Massey led 19-15 at one point before Sturgeon Heights clawed its way back to tie the set on the back of another six kills by Duncalfe. The favourites were the more balanced team, however, taking the second set 25-21.
Contributing to the Huskies’ struggles was the loss of middle Sydney Green, who left the game with an illness. Vermette was forced to move his right side to the middle, in a move that proved to be favourable in the long run.
“That was an adjustment that worked in our favour,” he said. “We had a lot of moving pieces. At the end of the day, they had a game plan and they stuck to it. It wasn’t pretty but they won the match.”
“They’ve been battle-tested in a lot of games. They’ve been through some tough matches and a lot of big crowds. Sometimes you gotta say it’s not how you won, but that you won. It wasn’t a great game by us tonight but we still found a way to win.”
A back-and-forth third set saw the Huskies survive myriad mistakes in their service game and hang tough with the dangerous Vikings, who owned a short lead for much of the frame.
After the Vikings took a 18-17 lead, the Huskies went on to win seven of the next 10 points to take the set 25-20 and draw within one set of their first AAAA varsity championship appearance.
The Huskies may have saved their best set for last with Vincent Massey’s back against the wall. Sturgeon Heights jumped out to a 8-4 lead and rarely took a second to look in the rear-view mirror, holding eight-point leads at three different times throughout the set before sealing the deal 25-20 on the back of four kills by Duncalfe.
“I was a bit nervous and when I got here I was seeing all the people and we just started playing better today,” said Duncalfe, who is committed to the University of Winnipeg Wesmen next year. “I wanted to win it.”
“We came out strong in the first set and in the second set we let off a bit. I felt like we got worked up a bit, but then we regrouped a bit. Then we finished it off.”
Duncalfe was coy in an assessment of her performance and when talking about whether she can be stopped when she finds her rhythm.
“Half and half,” she said while laughing. “It depends. When I’m in the groove, not that much, not really.”
Sturgeon Heights has now dropped just one set in the playoffs and enter the championship matchup with as much momentum as they’ve had all season.
“It means the world, we worked so hard all season and we practice hard and it was so special to be able to finish the game off and come out on top,” said libero Madison Peck.
“This is going to help us so much, we worked so hard and we knew we could do it. It was very nerve-wracking but we managed to pull it off and it means a lot.”
The second game of the night featured the second-seed Vincent Massey (Winnipeg) against sixth seed Lord Selkirk.
Lord Selkirk shocked number three Steinbach Regional Secondary three sets to one in the quarter-finals to extend their Cinderella run. The glass shoe would break emphatically, however, as the Trojans swept the Royals three sets to none (25-16; 25-19; 25-16) to advance to the title game.
“We’ve played (Sturgeon Heights) so many times this season… they’re a very good team so I’m excited to play them in the finals,” said left-side Kaiya Krahn.
“I think last year we said we were gonna beat them in the finals but it didn’t end up happening, so it’s like redemption this year.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.