This past spring, the return to high school sports gave Merritt Secondary School (MSS) Panthers the opportunity to showcase their athletic prowess by excelling in different sports such as track and field, rugby, golf, and ultimate frisbee. 

This school year, the same effect of returning to sports is taking place, and , once again, the Panthers are establishing themselves as an elite sports school. 

“I think that they did very well this season,” said Shelly Moorhead, MSS Athletics Assistant. “I think without fall sports last year, they’ve really made up for it by coming out full charge.” 

This fall season, MSS is being well represented in the fields of cross country, swimming and volleyball, with players and teams making it to the Okanagan Championships and beyond. 

Cross country athlete, Isaac Asselstine qualified for the Provincial Championship Tournament by placing in the top eight during the Okanagan tournament. 

Isaac Asselstine. Photo/MSS

“I thought he had a pretty good run during the Okanagans,”  said Coach Randy Sheldon. “He stayed consistent. He didn’t lose any spots, but it was a very tough competition for him, so it was hard to place any higher than he did.”  

The Grade 11 went to the Nordic Ski Club in West Kelowna with nine other Panthers. There, he competed in the Sr. Division, racing roughly a 6 km distance. 

“He had pretty consistent performances throughout the year,” Sheldon noted. “He’s always pushing himself, always in the top three or four boys each race we had throughout the year.”

Asselstine earned his spot at the Provincial Tournament in Victoria on November 4, but unfortunately forfeited this due to extraneous reasons.  

“That first big snowfall that hit everybody shut highways down,” Sheldon explained. “Isaac was set to travel with the West Zone Commissioner but unfortunately they weren’t able to travel.” 

Similarly, another promising young swimmer by the name of Kaiden Ricci also forfeited his spot at the Provincial Tournament, in this case, due to illness.

Kaiden Ricci. Photo/Daniella Ricci

The Grade 8 was set to compete in Richmond B.C. this coming weekend for the Provincial Championship Tournament. He earned the spot after competing in the Regional Tournament in Revelstoke on October 23.  Unfortunately, Ricci fell ill, making him unavailable to compete.

“He competes in an open category which means he doesn’t just compete against his own grade,” said Coach Kira Glasgow. “I think it’s really great to see a Grade 8 athlete competing at this level already, knowing that he has all the way till his Grade 12 year to work on his skills some more.” 

Glasgow noted how impressed she was by Ricci, being only in his first season of high school swimming, was able to qualify for the 50 metre freestyle category.

“It was a different environment than summer swimming, which is what he is used to,” she explained. “This was more of a high adrenaline meet, which he did well overall in.”

From great individual performances to exceptional team efforts, the Jr. Boys Volleyball team are making some noise, qualifying for the upcoming Okanagan Championships this Friday in Summerland. 

Winning in their wildcard game against South Kamloops Secondary, last week, The Jr. Boys Volleyball team punched their ticket to the tournament they aimed to make at the beginning of the season.  

Panthers Jr. Boys Volleyball team. Photo/MSS

“We had all the boys set individual and team goals at the start of the season,” Coach Zachary Villanueva explained. “Going to Okanagans was our team goal and they’ve all worked so hard to reach it. They’ve performed way higher than our expectations, willing to learn and get better as a team and it’s shown. I’ve never seen a group of Grade 8 boys with bigger heart. Volleyball is definitely on the rise in Merritt!”

Lastly, we have the Sr. Girls Volleyball team. At the beginning of the school year there is a notable buzz around this club because of MSS winning the bid to host the Sr. Girls Volleyball Provincials Tournament. 

Now that the rubber has met the road, it has been made clear that the squad is very competitive, beating Westsyde Secondary in a series of five matches to become West Zone Champions. 

“I think they started out very slow but they sure came through,” said Sr. Girls Volleyball team Head Coach Dave Finch. “They definitely showed their resiliency and dedication by winning the next three matches in the series.” 

Winning their West Zone games the Panthers are now ranked fourth going into the Okanagan Championships this Friday.

Panthers Sr. Girls Volleyball team. Izaiah Reyes/Herald

“We’re very much looking forward to proving ourselves, ” Finch noted. “We want to play a lot of volleyball so when it comes time for the Provincials, we don’t want to be known as the team that got to there just because we were hosting, we want to earn it.”

The team will be playing in the Okanagan Championships this Friday, in Vernon, with their first game against Princess Margaret Secondary School. After the tournament they will prepare to defend home court in the AA Provincial Championships beginning December 1.