After winning the 5A girls’ volleyball championship last November in Melfort over Saskatoon’s Bishop James Mahoney Saints, one might expect the St. Mary Marauders to be considered a favourite to repeat at the SHSAA provincials this weekend in Saskatoon.
However, Marauders head coach Shaun Hunko is quick to point that it’s never easy once you get to this time of the season.
“Sometimes, getting to the provincials is the hardest part, especially in our region,” Hunko said. “Before, it used be assumed that the two Prince Albert schools would get the top two spots. Now you have the smaller centres really developing their volleyball programs and you see that with how close the regionals are.
“It’s the same way at the provincial level, especially this year as I think you can make a case for eight of the 10 teams to win the tournament this weekend.”
The Marauders kept their quest for a second straight title alive in Warman last Saturday as they finished in the runner-up spot at the 5A North Regional tournament in Warman.
“We’ve been improving a little bit each week since the start of the season and you really start to notice on the bench just how much the girls have improved,” Hunko said.
“We faced some adversity in Warman but we were able to bounce back from those rough patches and controlled our fate in the playoffs as we made it to the final against North Battleford.”
The Marauders are in Pool A for the provincials and will go up against the Weyburn Eagles in their first round-robin game Friday.
Also in their group are the Swift Current Ardens, the Winston Knoll Wolverines of Regina and last year’s provincial finalists from Bishop James Mahoney.
Meanwhile, the Carlton Crusaders will be looking to improve upon their fourth place result at last year’s provincials as they earned a spot in Saskatoon with a win over the Lloydminster Barons during the third place game at the North Regional in Warman.
“The girls were pretty tired at the end of the weekend but they were able to pull through when their backs were against the wall to make it to the provincials,” Crusaders head coach Brooke Dallyn said.
“To see them play like that was awesome and we’re looking to build off that positive energy at the provincials. We’re a team that likes to have fun and we find that the girls play better when everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Awaiting the Crusaders in Group B play are the Campbell Tartans of Regina, the North Battleford Vikings, the Balgonie Greenall Griffins and the tournament host Holy Cross Crusaders of Saskatoon.
“We played against the Vikings last weekend and we held on our own against them until we let our foot of the gas in the third set,” Dallyn said.
“It should be a really close event. It’s always wide open and quite often it’s not the team that has been winning a lot of tournaments all year that ends up winning the provincials.”
The tournament will wrap up Saturday with the gold medal game taking place at 5:45 p.m.