Early Bird tourney helps level the field for Yukon teams

Just because the Early Bird High School Tournament does not crown a champion team doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

Just because the Early Bird High School Tournament does not crown a champion team doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

The Early Bird, which took place this past weekend at Porter Creek and FH Collins schools, is an opportunity for high school volleyball teams to examine their mechanics and see what needs fine-tuning before the regular season.

“I think the idea is to give everyone a welcoming back to volleyball sort of thing,” said Nathan Dewell, coach of the Grade 9/10 boys’ team from Robert Service Secondary in Dawson City. “So they can get a tournament under their belts and get a little practice in.

“Some of these guys have never played together before, so it’s a good chance to see how the players mesh and that sort of thing,” said Dewell, speaking of his team, the Knights.

Making up a third of their season, more or less, it seems the rural teams have more to gain from the tournament because they have less opportunities to play competitively.

“This definitely benefits our teams more than the teams in Whitehorse,” said Watson Lake girls’ 9/10 Bears coach Jean MacLean.

Unlike the Whitehorse teams, who play almost weekly throughout the season, the teams from Watson Lake, Dawson and Haines Junction only get a few tourneys to compete in.

“In Whitehorse they can have continual play, because they play against schools that are close by,” said MacLean.

“But us rural schools normally only compete in the Early Bird, the Dawson City Invitational and the (Yukon) Championships, so we’re really only playing five games here, four or five games in Dawson and then four or five games for the championship. So over the course of our season, we’re probably only playing 15 games.

“So it’s really important that we come to the Early Bird so we get the practice against the teams we’re going to play,” said MacLean.

Both the girls’ and boys’ 9/10 divisions featured teams from the three outside high schools, with nine teams in total for the girls and seven for the boys. Watson Lake was absent in the 11/12 divisions and the St. Elias Eagles were only present in the girls’ 11/12 draw.

Nine teams made up the girls’ 11/12 division, while just five made up the boys’.

 “We only play games in tournaments,” said St. Elias Eagles coach Cyndi O’Rourke. “Otherwise we’re playing people from our own school and they’re never the same division. Sometimes it’s boys against girls, so it’s not as valuable as playing here.”

For many 9/10 teams, the Early Bird is an opportunity to work on player rotation, something that can trouble players as they move from elementary into high school.

“In the early season they’re learning new rotations when they come into the high school level,” said MacLean. “They get to work on their rotation and then they can see where practice is needed. And then we have two months before the championships to practise.”

Since the senior players have much more experience with rotation, the Early Bird provides teams like the girls’ 11/12 Eagles from Haines Junction with a chance to work on more teamwork oriented fundamentals.

“It’s getting us to work together, calling the ball,” said 11/12 Eagles player Jana Madley. “(We’re) focusing on our three hits mainly.”

Another advantage to the Early Bird is that the officiating is not overly pedantic. Teams are given some leeway when it comes to things like proper rotation.

“We can make mistakes here and learn from them,” said MacLean. “In real game-play, if you’re out of rotation the other team gets the point. They let stuff like that slide. This is a very open tournament and rules are casual, so we get to make lots of mistakes.”

Furthermore, in the Early Bird coaches have more time to communicate with their players, where in more stringently organized tournaments such opportunities are not so conveniently available.

“I can communicate a lot with the kids,” said MacLean. “In the Yukon Championships I can’t really talk to them a lot because you’re not allowed to … I can step on the court and say, ‘Move here.’”

The importance of the Early Bird is doubled for the Watson Lake Bears, considering the team does not always make the trip to the Dawson City Invitational.

“We’d like to go this year, but we’re not really sure,” said MacLean, speaking of the Dawson tournament. “It’s a distance thing for us.

“We really need the Early Bird, because this is where we work out all our glitches.”

However, the Bears do get some play from a local senior league and once a season a high school team comes up from Dease Lake, BC, to play.

“That helps us out a lot too,” said MacLean.

In other volleyball news, both Porter Creek and FH Collins will be sending teams to BC this upcoming weekend to compete in the University of British Columbia Open.