Cougars set sights on provincials
The Notre Dame senior boys volleyball Cougars won’t be satisfied with anything less than a berth in the provincial tier 1 high school championship tournament in late November.
That’s understandable, considering the team is ranked fifth in the province.
“We’ve been playing well. Our practices have been going well and the guys are really focused,” said fourth-year head coach AJ Mahoney, whose host squad took top honours in the Cougar Classic tournament during the weekend with a 3-0 (25-12, 25-17, 25-18) win over the Sherwood Park Salisbury Sabres in the championship final. “This is probably the most complete team I’ve had and we’ve set some pretty high goals for ourselves for the end of the season,” added Mahoney, whose team didn’t lose a set in the tournament.
The Cougars, who open regular-season play Thursday against the visiting Hunting Hills Lightning, have already experienced a measure of success this fall, reaching the semifinals of the prestigious, 24-team Panther Invitational tournament at Spruce Grove, an event that features clubs from across western Canada.
The Cougars are led by captains Daimyn Biletsky, a middle blocker, and Bennett Bolen, who plays an outside position.
“They did a lot of work in the off-season to really prepare themselves,” said Mahoney. “And then our other Grade 12s have come prepared to step into starting roles and make sure that they deserve to stay there.”
The other Notre Dame starters are outside hitter Eric Jensen and Michael Pearce, Libero Nolan Bruin and setter Colton Bodwell. New to the team are Kane LeBlanc, Nick Schumacher, Jesse Muirhead, Alex Elkins, Jordy Quinn and Devin Sheridan.
“We have great depth and it’s looking good for next year too,” said Mahoney.
This season the Cougars senior boys and girls teams are playing all of their league games against the other two Red Deer schools — Hunting Hills and Lindsay Thurber.
“We decided to do this just for travel reasons. It was eating up a lot of our budget and it wasn’t always beneficial,” said Mahoney of the Red Deer schools withdrawing from the Central Alberta League.
“We had guys coming home late when they had school the next day and we had nine or 10 league games in a 12-week season. It ended up being a lot with all the travel and competing in tournaments.”
Mahoney admitted that some of the rural schools were also in favour of the Red Deer schools forming their own league.
“That was part of it, but the bottom line is we have a great league set-up here,” he said. “It’s nice that all three (city) high schools are fairly strong and we can get that good competition without necessarily having to rely on outside sources for it.”
Just one of the three Red Deer schools — in both the boys and girls categories — will qualify for the provincials Nov. 28-30 at Edmonton. The first-place team will get a bye into the zone final and will face the semifinal winner for the rights to advance.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Mahoney. “Lindsay Thurber is quite strong again this year, they’re ranked No. 1 in the province. That’s who we’re aiming for, we have our sights set on them.
“We’re going to continue to build so that we’re ready for the challenge at the end of November.”
l Cougars senior girls first-year coach Mike Kelly is in charge of a relatively inexperienced group, although he’s been pleased with the players’ attitude and athleticism.
“We have a younger, hard-working group. We also have an athletic group, but we don’t have a lot of experience,” he noted. “We’ve seen glimmers of hope this fall, and then we’ve taken a step back. But we’re still moving forward.
“This is a very coachable group and they’re wiling to get in there and learn from experience.”
Back for another season are Libero Kelsie Caine, setter Madison Schmidt and right sides Jenna Soroka and Brynna Maloughney. The rookies are setter Dori Henderson, outsides Megan Hansen, Karley Jackshaw and Celina Dion, middles Olivia Piche, Kelsey Jackshaw and Hayley Hollings, outside/Libero Cierra Stephens and Libero Kirsten Pinkney.
“We have a young team, but there’s a lot of potential there as well. If the girls can get that confidence, which is huge, and put everything together then they’ll be able to compete with a lot of teams.”
So far this fall, the Cougars have qualified for the semifinals of the Red Deer College tournament and placed in the top eight of the University of Alberta tourney. The also finished second in their pool in the Panther Invitational, before losing to a Vancouver team in a cross-over playoff.
“We’re just hoping to get better each week,” said Kelly, who is assisted by Robyn Best and Megan Schmidt. “We don’t want to peak early, we’re looking to peak in the middle of November and towards the end of the month. We’ll keep learning and working hard.”
Salisbury defeated the Sylvan Lake Lakers 2-0 in the girls final of the Cougar Classic. Notre Dame lost to Salisbury in a semifinal.