U16 Chill start the ball rolling at Provincials
by Randy Pascal
With the goal of a provincial medal evident from the very start of an impressive season, the Northern Chill U16
Girls travelled to Waterloo last weekend for the OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) championships.
For the past four years, the competition has been hosted at the RIM Park Manulife Sportsplex, a tournament
which culminates the hours of commitment, dedication and hard work by players, coaches and volunteers alike.
Entering the tournament ranked a very respectable 27th out of 74 teams, the northern girls faced their first test in the
early hours of day one, battling the Durham Attack Black (ranked 22nd).
While early jitters were present in the first set loss (12-25), the coaching staff of Craig Thomson and Amy
Cliff settled their players’ nerves quickly enough, earning a tight 25-23 second set victory, largely on the strength
of outstanding passing by Alandria Czerkas and strong net play by rookie Jillian Vallier.
Going into the third set with momentum on their side, the “Comeback Kids” (as their fans have affectionately dubbed them)
ground out a 15-12 victory, despite falling behind early.
The second contest of the day saw Chill take on the 19th-ranked Stratford Stingers. Despite some all-around strong
play from Emily Sanders, the Chill fell to the Stingers in straight sets, 20-25 and 22-25. “[We had] a few system
breakdowns at the critical 20-25 point stage that cost us dearly,” said Thomson.
Closing out round robin play against the 30th-ranked Forest City Green 15U (London), the Chill were determined to
work for every point, setting in motion the progression of an epic opening set.
The evenly matched sides traded points in what, unfortunately, ended in a 30-32 first set loss for the northerners. The
physical intensity of the first set, combined with the mental dismay of losing such a contest, found the young team faltering
in the second set, succumbing 14-25 to a rejuvenated Forest City crew.
Despite ending day one on a losing note, the coaching staff re-grouped and worked with their charges to re-evaluate their
goals and begin the day two “Power Pools” with the same commitment to success that saw the girls win a Provincial Cup silver
medal earlier in the season.
Opening their pool against a very determined 24th-ranked Interclub of North York, the Sudburians saw remnants of
their inconsistent play from Friday, resulting in a disappointing 20-25 first set loss.
The veteran presence of left side hitter Amanda Kring and the defensive prowess of rookies Courtney Smith
and Vallier took their southern opponents to the brink, knotting the match with a hard-fought 25-23 win.
The decisive third set brought about shouts of encouragement from the stands, as Chill faced an early 1-7 deficit.
Knocking this deficit off point-by-point on the strength of crisp combos run by setter Kelsey Pitre, the Chill could
not overcome the untimely errors, losing the set and match 13-15.
An awakening, of sorts, took place in the second match of the day, where Chill took on the 29th-ranked Halton
Hurricanes Blue. With selfless play and visual sense of purpose, the girls handily took down their opponents in the
first set, 25-15.
In a disappointing turn, coaches Thomson and Cliff saw the well-deserved win from the first set get cancelled out with a
messy 15-25 loss in the second. Utilizing the entire roster, the U16 ladies clawed back once again, scraping out another
come-from-behind win (15-12), leaving their opponents crest-fallen at the result.
The third and final match of the Power Pool draw - to determine seeding for the all-important play-off round the following
day - saw Chill take on the 26th-ranked South County Bandits.
With the adrenalin still pumping from the dramatic win in the previous match, the Chill dominated the Essex County-based
Bandits 25-14 in the first set, sweeping the match with a 25-23 victory as Toni Teale proved to be the catalyst,
staging a late 8-point serving run.
“I was so impressed by the “compete” level of the girls," said Thomson. "Manon (Duhaime) was having the
tournament of the year.”
By finishing in a tie for first place in their pool the previous day, the Chill were rewarded with a re-match of a
playoff match from earlier this season against the very tough Ottawa Fusion (ranked 13th).
Knowing the Fusion is not a team that gives away points easily, the girls entered play keenly aware that each point
would have to be fought and earned. With an effort that made both the coaching staff and their travelling fan base proud,
the Chill gave their opponents all they could handle.
Untimely missed serves and unforced errors ultimately saw the Chill eliminated from the tournament, falling 20-25 and
19-25 to the crew from the nation's capital.
Despite the disappointment of an early playoff exit, coach Thomson offered a positive outlook and perspective for his
talented and impressionable team. “The experience learned here will pay dividends at Nationals (the 2012 Canadian Open
Volleyball Championship) and generally, going forward as a team," he said. "I can’t wait for Nationals.”