Carlton and St. Mary volleyball teams back on the court

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Connor Hayes of the Carlton Crusaders goes for a spike during a tournament at St. Mary on Sept. 10.

With high school volleyball being forced to the sidelines in the province of Saskatchewan last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Carlton Crusaders and St. Mary Marauders boys and girls programs have been in a get to you know phase since they made their way back on the court earlier this month.

“It’s a little bit like starting from scratch for everyone around the province,” Carlton senior boys head coach Curtis Bender said. “We’ve been in a lot of three-set games already and I think a lot of that has to do with all the teams being at the same level right now.

“For a lot of these guys, especially on our team, they haven’t played a lot of competitive volleyball and they don’t have that extra experience that comes with playing the club game.  There’s a lot of learning going on, but we’ve been improving every week and I like the direction we’re going in.”

The Marauders and Crusaders senior boys programs have taken part in three so far this year, as their season began at St. Mary before trips to Meadow Lake and Swift Current.

Carlton earned their best finish of the season two weeks ago with a sixth place result in Meadow Lake, while St. Mary split their junior and senior rosters into three teams for their home tournament and earned first, fifth and ninth place results.

The Marauders senior squad also had a strong showing in Swift Current last weekend as they picked up a silver medal.

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Colin Paulhus of the St. Mary Marauders leaps up for a smash during his team’s home tournament.

“It’s a new team for us in terms of adjusting to the senior high school volleyball mindset, but the majority of them played on our junior team two years ago and they have a lot of experience in club volleyball,” St. Mary senior boys head coach Rene Quintal said.

“The majority of our guys were able to stay active in the sport of volleyball with the opportunities that were provided to them during the pandemic, which I think has helped them out a lot.”

The learning curve has also been in effect for the Crusaders and Marauders senior girls programs during their first three tournaments of the season.

“It’s a lot different in terms of knowing what you have for the team as you really didn’t get to see the younger players play last year due to the pandemic,” Crusaders senior girls head coach Brooke Dallyn said.

“It’s kind of a rebuilding year for us as we only have two players returning from our 2019 team, but we’ve been in the middle of the pack at the three tournaments we’ve competed in (which were at Carlton, North Battleford and St. Mary) and we’ve been improving every time out, which is all you can ask for at this point in the season.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Isabella Winger of the St. Mary Marauders serves the ball into play during a tournament at Carlton on Friday, Sept. 10.

The Marauders have enjoyed an impressive start to their 2021 campaign as they won silver medals at Carlton and North Battleford before picking up a bronze medal last weekend on their home court.

“We have a pretty unique group this year as we’re a young team, but we have some key veterans leading the way,” St. Mary senior girls head coach Shaun Hunko said. “Everyone’s bought in and we’re getting a little better each week.

“This team has a very high ceiling and they are willing and wanting to get better each day. We’ve had a bit of success to start the season and we’re going to keep working hard so that we close the gap against the top teams in the 5A category.”

Carlton and St. Mary will be back on the tournament trail this weekend in Warman as they gear up for the 5A Girls Regional tournament, which will be held on Nov. 12 and 13 at St. Mary and will also include the North Battleford Vikings, Warman Wildcats and Lloydminster Barons.

The top two teams from that tournament will then advance to the provincials, which will be held in Swift Current on Nov. 19 and 20.

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Billie Dogniez of the Carlton Crusaders prepares to serve the ball into play during her team’s home tournament.

“Our big focus right now is the fundamentals,” Dallyn said. “As we go further down the road, we’re going to look more closely at what the other teams are doing, but right now our focus is on our side of the court before we get to regionals.”

“The two main components of our game that we are working on right now are our serving and serve receiving,” Hunko added. “That’s a big part of the girls game and we need to be sharp in those areas, especially as we get further into the season.”

Meanwhile, the Crusaders and Marauders boys squads will have their next big tournament at Carlton on Oct. 15 and 16.

Their 5A Boys Regional tournament, which will also feature North Battleford, Warman and Lloydminster, will take place in Lloydminster on Nov. 12 and 13, with the top three teams earning a spot at the provincials the following week in Saskatoon.

“I feel like it’s going to be a pretty wide open year,” Quintal said. “As we go through the season, our guys are going to grow as a team and I think you are going to see them mature a lot as they go through situations.”

“If we can clean some up the mistakes that we’re learning from, I think we can be right there with the top teams in the province,” Bender added. “We’re a young team that needs to learn how to win, but the lessons that we’re going through right now are going to make us better going forward.”