One last set of provincials for U18 Chill
by Randy Pascal
Stepping on to the court together seven, eight times or more over the course of a weekend is hardly a new experience for the girls who comprise the
Northern Chill 18U club volleyball team. The core of this squad, after all, dates back to their first year of OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association)
tournament competition as precocious members of a 13U entry.
Still, this past weekend would be unlike any other, as the Chill elder statesmen participated in their final set of youth provincial championships.
“It feels really different, just the atmosphere with the girls,” noted Mikaela Richter, a soon-to-be Lockerby Composite graduate who will
pursue her mechanical engineering dreams next year at the University of Ottawa. “Getting down to these last practices, you really feel it. It’s sad
to see it all come to an end, but it’s awesome to share this bond with these girls.”
“We’ve kind of been thinking about provincials all year, but it really clicked in at our last tournament, kind of hitting us that this is the end and we
have to push hard all the way,” teammate Samantha McGrath agreed.
Quite proficient at both volleyball and basketball, McGrath has suited up consistently with both teams during her time at Ecole Secondaire
Macdonald-Cartier, all while mixing in the necessary time to fulfil her commitment to the Chill club team each and every winter.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t just the tail-end of the 2017-2018 season that provided the opportunity for retrospection for the local volleyball crew.
“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve really been bonding together, really working together because it’s our last year,” said McGrath.
“I found we came together more as a team, we really clicked,” chimed in Richter. “(Coaches) Heather (Hastie) and Lisa (Carruthers) were
really pushing us. It’s a really good way to end our last year, to leave it all on the court.”
While the athletes certainly grow and develop in unison, the Chill coaches are much more interspersed, the club opting to keep the same individuals at a
given age group, more often than not, allowing each staff to impart their own unique level of knowledge and teaching methods upon a new group of talent,
with every passing campaign.
In that sense, Hastie garners a relative assessment for each collection of talent as they pass through her hands. “They’re a really hard working group,
and that was shown right at the beginning of the year,” noted the two-sport star (volleyball and fastball) from her days of NCAA elite athletic involvement
at Georgian Court University in Lakeland, New Jersey.
“They’re very coachable, they’re competitive, and they want to win. It’s just kind of increased over the course of the year. We’ve had some ups and
downs at tournaments, but for the most part, they remained a pretty tight-knit group throughout.”
“Winning the gold medals at our third tournament really pumped us up, and then the next tournament, we played pretty well also,” noted McGrath. “Our
offense, when we won gold, was amazing. We ran combos, we ran our middles every time we could, and that’s what got us all of our points.” Still, like most
of the Chill teams, the U18 crew is not blessed with an over-abundance of size, relative to their OVA counterparts, Lexi Johnson notwithstanding.
“We’re pretty strong on serve receive, defensive-wise, and I think we have to be, just because we’re smaller,” said Hastie. “We don’t really have any
big, big scary people, so we have to be strong defensively. What we really worked on, after Christmas, was some out of system stuff, just fine-tuning a lot
of little things. That’s what we have been pushing.”
The reality of swinging into larger, more imposing blocking tandems has been something that McGrath and company have dealt with for the past several
years. “It’s kind of our defense that has to cover the hitters,” she stated. “For us, it’s about finding the block and seeing if we can hit around it, or
off the hands or something.”
While many a Chill team will tend to be challenged, simply in terms of their numbers, by the time the U17 and U18 adventures roll around, the 2000 age
bracket have weathered this storm better than most. “This year, we have eleven players – last year, we had eight (with the 1999 crew),” said Hastie.
“It makes practice a lot different if you don’t have as many. It’s such a difference, just having those three extra bodies.” Even from the athlete’s
perspective, there is an impact. “We’ve always had good numbers, but in our U18 year, you’ve got to prove that you want to be on the court,” said Richter.
“That’s been really big this year, the competition between the girls for playing time – it’s been good.”
Soon, that will end. For McGrath, who enters the chemical engineering stream at Laurentian University come September, there are so many positive
takeaways from the entire experience. “I think what Chill gave me was that ability to work with different people,” she said. “When we were in 16U, we got
to work with a 13U buddy.”
“Over the years, we’ve had different players coming in and out of the team. I think it was awesome.” The graduating Chill roster this season included
Alison Labrash, Christina Rorison, Brooke Smith, Natasha Gervais, Kayla Murray, Becca Hopkins, Sydney Coles, Tasia Lachapelle, Lexi Johnson, Samantha
McGrath, Mikaela Richter, coaches Heather Hastie and Lisa Carruthers, and team manager Cathy Labrash.