The Yukon’s junior male volleyball team is going into the Arctic Winter Games’ final as the heavy favourite.
Very heavy, like a boulder or a Mack truck.
The team arrived at the final without dropping a single set over 11 games, including the semifinal. Even Thursday evening’s semifinal at the Canada Games Centre was handily won. The Yukon defeated N.W.T., 25-17, 25-12, 25-11.
At this point, it’s a matter of maintaining course, said Yukon head coach Shaun McLoughlin.
“That’s the same result we’ve had all week and that’s a good sign,” he said. “I think we’re playing very level. We’re not having many ups, we’re not having many downs, it’s just we have a job to do and we’re coming out and doing it.
“We know that we have a very strong team and at this point we’re the team to beat. So we’re not changing our strategy at all. We know we have the skills to win so the other teams have to try to beat us.”
For the gold medal match, the Yukon boys will be taking on Alberta North. The Yukon has already twice defeated that team. Their last match was Wednesday in which the Yukon won 25-19, 25-15.
“I think it’s going to be our toughest match of the tournament,” said McLoughlin. “We’ve beat them twice already, but they’re experienced volleyball players – they play a lot of volleyball down there – and they’re gunning for us.
“They were the team to beat coming into this tournament, but now the pressure’s on us.”
In the semifinal, Yukon captain Mike Hunter led the team from the service line with three aces, while Albert Spycher and Lowell Tait each had one.
Spycher continued to be a force at the net, hitting 14 kills – with a 100 per cent in play efficiency – while Mason Gray and Hunter both produced seven kills.
The Yukon’s female team hasn’t been nearly as dominating. But it’s pulled together enough wins to reach Friday’s final where it will face undefeated Alaska.
Like the Yukon junior males, the female team advanced into the final with a win over N.W.T. on Thursday, taking the match 25-19, 25-19, 25-20.
They lost their previous game against N.W.T. but won the two before that. All three round-robin match-ups between the teams went to three sets. (Semis and finals are best-of-five sets.)
The team is just hitting its stride, said Yukon junior female coach Natasha Bilodeau.
“I feel this is the first game in the whole tournament that this team has all come out to play at the same time,” she said. “Everyone on and off the floor was awesome and supportive and energetic.
“They came out with a whole new energy today compared to the entire week.”
Alaska will be a tough team to defeat. After its straight-set semifinal win over Nunavut on Thursday, Alaska has won 10 straight matches and 21 consecutive sets.
“It’ll be a tough job for sure,” said Bilodeau. “They are a really talented group of girls and they move and play really well together.”
The junior female gold medal game will take place at 2 p.m., followed by the junior male final at 4 p.m., at the Canada Games Centre.
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