Top high school volleyball players in the province will be serving up great action this weekend in Antigonish.
Hosted by the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals Division 1 girl’s program, the 19th Annual McDonald’s Golden Arches will take place Friday, and Saturday at the Regional gym and Saint Andrew Junior School.
“We have 16 teams this year and, out of those, probably four or five are amongst the top ones in the province,” Royals’ head coach Joe Duggan said.
He noted the timing appeals to teams.
“It’s right in the middle of the season and most teams are playing, pretty much, their best volleyball,” Duggan offered.
“In early tournaments, there are different players every time you play a team – this kind of thing. But – as we go into this time of the season – the coaches have their line-ups narrowed down, and that sort of thing, so you are starting to see what you are going to see at provincials,” he added.
Duggan was asked about favourites to win the tournament.
“We have a nice group of teams coming in,” he said.
One of the frontrunners is the defending champion CEC Cougars.
“They are strong and have a great program. They will give us their best effort,” Duggan said of the Truro school.
The CP Allen Cheetahs of Bedford and Riverview Royals of Coxheath, along with Bloomfield, P.E.I., will also be “strong contenders.”
Citadel High School of Halifax, defending NSSAF champions, will not be in action.
Another top challenger will be the hometown Royals.
“We are having a very good year – the kids are working really hard,” Duggan said of the young squad, which graduated seven seniors.
That, coupled with injury, reduced the number of returnees to four – Sophie MacInnis, Stephanie Wallace, Annice Gingras and Rachel McKeough.
“They are doing a great job with our leadership,” Duggan said of his veterans.
MacInnis played with Team Nova Scotia at the Canada Summer Games, while Wallace won a championship with the provincial U-17 team.
“The younger ones have been, kind of, fitting in. We have been trying to meld or build around those two girls,” Duggan said.
“We have really come a long way, since September. When you bring all these new people together, it is hard, sometimes, to mould them into a team, but they really responded to all the things we have asked them to do, and that’s been a key for us,” he added.
Duggan noted the Royals have “great chemistry.”
“We are looking forward to a strong finish in the second half,” he said.
Ready to go
Like her head coach, Wallace talked about the roster turnover.
“It was really going to be a building year for us,” she said, while noting more players than expected came to tryouts.
“Everyone is doing very well and the season has been great so far.”
MacInnis added the team is “improving very quickly.”
“It is really exciting to see,” she said.
Gingras also touched on the aforementioned chemistry.
“We are a really close-knit team,” she said.
On the court, Wallace noted the Royals have a strong offense.
“We are working a lot on our defense and it has improved a lot over the season,” she said.
As for the home tournament, Duggan said it would not have been possible with the support of local McDonald’s ownership – now Gail Kenny – over the years.
“They have been so wonderful to us,” he said of the sponsorship.
“They start contacting us in the summer to make sure we are having the tournament again, which really shows their tremendous support.”
Action starts Friday, at 4 p.m., with round robin play wrapping up Saturday morning.
Playoffs and championship matches will wrap up late Saturday afternoon at the Regional gym.
“We are really excited to see how our team does and compete against other high-level teams, especially in our home gym,” MacInnis said, as her teammates nodded in agreement.
As for that hometown crowd, Gingras added, “there is a lot of Antigonish spirit.”
“Come on out and support us,” Wallace said in making a pitch to fans.