The Virden Collegiate Institute senior girls volleyball team battled its way to a second-place finish at its home tournament last weekend.
The team fell in the finals to a strong Neelin squad. The match went three sets. It was knotted at 14-14. A missed serve and a defensive error allowed the visitors from Brandon to earn the win, 16-14, and the championship.
“The fight that we put up is all I care about and I’m so proud of the girls for doing so well,” VCI head coach Amy Lewis said. “Neelin is a really good team, and we pushed them to their breaking point. It’s only up from here. It’s really great to be a part of something that is such a key part in these girls’ lives and helping them create lifelong memories. I’m very excited to see what the back half of the season has in store.”
Lewis and assistant coach Maddie Lesnar of Kola are former VCI all-star players. They went on to be members of teams at Dakota College at Bottineau and the University of Saskatchewan, respectively. They are now giving back by coaching this generation of Golden Bears. Before the home tournament, the highest the squad finished this season was fifth.
“(Maddie and I) really feel like the girls have all improved so much, both individually and as a team over this season,” Lewis said. “Some of the girls hadn’t really played alongside one another, some only playing high school ball and not club. to us, none of that matters, as part of the way we coach is to focus on what’s going on in the moment, as that’s the only thing we can control.”
The head coach said the home tournament is always fun, but “everyone wants to knock off the home team.” The Golden Bears were undefeated in pool play. They beat Swan Valley and Souris in straight sets to finish first in their pool and earn a bye into the quarterfinals. VCI beat Elie’s St. Paul’s Barons in straight sets to advance to the semifinals.
“This is as far as we’ve come in a tournament this year (previously getting as far as fifth), but this team is making such big strides and improving so quickly and eagerly, I know that this will not be the last result like this for us,” Lewis said.
In the semifinals, VCI faced a Stonewall team that it had lost to in three sets in the quarterfinals of the Vincent Massey tournament.
“Stonewall is a tough team with a good coach,” Lewis said. “They will scramble to get to any ball. We went to three sets again, but with our scrappiness combined with our offence, we came up on the right side of the battle this time.”
That victory set up a battle with Neelin. While the Goldens Bears had triumphed against Vincent Massey, River East and Sturgeon Heights – all top ranked AAAA teams – it had not beaten the Neelin team, which competes at the AAA level.
“I am insanely proud of them because they went the distance in that match,” Lewis said of her players. “We went point for point almost the entire first set, with us just barely taking the edge and winning it. the second set, we were off on serve receive, causing them to capitalize and get the second set win.”
That set up the third set where Neelin prevailed 16-14.