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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
Beach volleyball is sometimes the better fit
by Randy Pascal

For an avid local indoor volleyball crew, beach volleyball provides a very natural outdoor summer transition. In fact, for some, the sand and sun setting is easily their source of greatest potential.

While Brielle Chicoine has enjoyed a measure of success on the hard court, suiting up with the senior team at Collège Notre-Dame since her arrival at the school in grade nine and cracking the roster of the Northern Chill club team dating back to her U13 campaign, it was her second year with the beach alternative that created a real breakthrough.

The grade 11 sixteen year-old Alouette was named this summer to the provincial beach team, joining fifteen others from across the province with Team Ontario Red (16U), ostensibly the feeding ground for Team Ontario Black (18U) down the road.

“I'm only 5'10”, so in court volleyball, I would need to be taller to make it with university and college teams,” noted Chicoine, earlier this week. “But for beach, that's kind of the perfect height, because you can be a defender or a blocker.”

In addition to the physical traits, there is a degree of athletic variance to the skill-set required to thrive in the indoor environment, where you are joined by five other teammates, on the floor, versus the presence of just one partner in the summer game, where establishing solid footing is much, much more difficult.

“In beach, the really big difference is especially the sand that you are playing in,” said Chicoine. “It's so much harder to move than on court. You don't get any grip or anything. You have to work your legs 24/7 to be able to push off in the sand. And you really have to find a way to fall in the sand, so that you can get back up easier.”

Strategically speaking, the mindset shifts again. While volleyball, by its nature, is notorious for involving all team members arguably more than many other sports, the beach game shifts that focus on to just two pairs of shoulders. “You have to be constantly talking with your partner about everything you see on the court,” said Chicoine.

“You have to make different calls with your partner so that you can take most of the court, protect most of the court with just two people. I get so much more into the game.” Perhaps it was this extra passion for beach volleyball that allowed Chicoine to survive as the only local representative selected in a field of some 60 or so athletes, joined by one other northern Ontario teammate in the form of Payton Sproule from North Bay.

“It was exhausting, but it was such a great experience,” said Chicoine. Exhausting, no doubt, as the soon-to-be 16 year old also competed with regular partner Lauren Jeanneault at 16U provincials, capturing silver, and then partnering with Addie Mitchell (North Bay Vision) to claim gold at the 15U event.

Better still, this summer marked a notable jump in terms of local participation in the provincial (OVA) beach volleyball circuit. To be sure, part of the reason for this leap forward came part and parcel of a newly introduced “Spikes” camp, held in June under the watch of Ontario Summer Games coach Denny Chicoine.

His oversight extended, beyond the camp, to working with the Sudbury tandem of Sydney Nicholls and Josée Beauchamp, who helped represent Region 2 in London at the Summer Games. Though the duo was eliminated in the pre quarter-finals by the eventual gold medal winning crew, the experience garnered by Nicholls and Beauchamp will prove quite helpful in summers to come.

There were several other instances of successful performances in OVA tournaments from locals at venues throughout Ontario as Alexie Chicoine and Hayley Bertrand emerged with a pair of gold medals in the 13U/14U age bracket, with Chicoine sharing another with Haven Fournier.

The 14U classification would see the teams of Mia Renaud and Molly Lafantaisie, and Emma Coutu and Sophie Gaffney, both returning north with silver medals, as the division welcomed the greatest amount of Sudbury participation. The likes of Alexia Lemay-Evans, Erin Wiseman, Sidney Jokinen, Anya Dowe, Emma Vaillancourt, Zoe Bertrand, Megan Merrylees and Roma Cormier all carried northern hopes into action on the beach.

Rounding out the local lineup were Mia Lemay-Evans and Manon Charbonneau in the 12U events, while Ashley Ruddick and Kameryn Van Wallegham teamed up at the 13U/14U level, Erin Gaffney and Sami Dunlop-Bissett doing likewise for the 16U elders.

In other volleyball news, locals were also busy dotting the rosters of a pair of Ontario Summer Games Region 2 teams. Teammates with the Northern Chill, the half-dozen grouping of Emma Coutu, Haven Fournier, Brianne Perreault, Alexia Lemay-Evans, Grace Perrier and Rory Frantz knew full well what they were facing entering the competition.

“When you hear that teams down south have 200 people coming out for tryouts and we have barely 40 people coming out, it's certainly nerve-wracking,” said Frantz. “You know that they are going to be able to find some talent.”

Still, the experience of bringing together athletes who have been programmed to see each other as fierce northern rivals can provide for key moments of enlightenment for all of those involved. “We had people from North Bay and Sturgeon Falls, that we didn't know as well,” added Frantz, a 14 year old grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park.

“There were some games that we had trouble staying up, just because we didn't really know how to bring each other up after losing some points. Playing against them during our regular season, they definitely look like mean girls, because you're supposed to be competitive and everything.”

“But actually getting to sit down with them and play with them, you find out that they are all really nice girls. We actually became really good friends with them, even over the course of just a couple of weeks.” Making new friends on the boys side of the draw were Josh Gascon, Miguel Leclair, Mathieu Lemieux, Noah Perreault and Noah Squires, all of whom competed with the Region 2 crew in London.

Though the team finished seventh of eight in pool play, they would take four of their seven matches to the three set max, all while dropping sets by scores of 21-25, 22-25, 24-26 and 23-25 against the other three opponents.

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