Knights gain a visual appreciation of OFSAA competition
by Randy Pascal
For the likes of Derek De Luisa and Matthew Merrylees, a trip to OFSAA, in this, their final year at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School,
means the world.
For Eric Dissanayake and the bulk of this very young senior Knights volleyball team, a trek to the 2018 OFSAA Volleyball Boys AAA
Championship in Windsor will be looked to in terms of providing a valuable learning experience for a core that would love nothing more than to return
to the days of boys volleyball glory that the south end school had become accustomed to.
"This is my fourth year playing and first year going to OFSAA," noted De Luisa, a 17 year old setter with the team. "It really means a lot, especially
in my last year, my last chance of going to OFSAA. I've never been before. It also means a lot just to keep playing in a sport that I have been playing for
all four years."
One of only two returning members of the 2017 senior Knights squad (Merrylees is the other), De Luisa had prepared for a changing of the guard, in
multiple ways, prior to even taking to the court this fall.
"We have a new coach this year (James Schweyer) who has coached the Chill for a couple of years, so he really knows what he's talking about. Also,
we have a lot more height this year." No surprise then that from a technical/strategic standpoint as well, this version of the Knights bears little
resemblance to their predecessors.
"Almost everything is different," acknowledged De Luisa. "Our offense is now a lot faster, a lot of quicks and "C" balls. On defense, we kind of changed
it up a bit. Sometimes we will block line. Our coach has really helped us focus more on their key players and how they play. Coach will tell us where to
block and that helps us a lot."
Along with the impact of a new voice on the bench came the added bonus of several meetings with the Lasalle Lancers, a team which is making their
fourth straight appearance at OFSAA.
"It helped us in a lot of areas, but mainly blocking, because they have multiple hitters that are absolutely killing the ball," said Dissanayake. "It's
tough to adjust to that, especially after playing weaker teams that might not have that kind of height."
"We know that we were not necessarily playing a bunch of tight games during the season, so to be able to play a bunch of tough sets against Lasalle in
the (city) final, it really helped us prepare for those pressure situations, like we faced in the NOSSA final against Chippewa."
Mastering the position of libero since his arrival in high school, Dissayanake explained that his focus does tend to vary from a number of the players
on his team. "I have to be able to pass the ball well, that's the main thing," said the 15 year old grade 11 athlete.
"I have to be able to get the ball to the setter, so that we can use all of our options. We have a bunch of really good hitters, but if we don't get a
good pass to the setter, none of that matters. As a libero, it's about learning where guys hit, but the main thing is being outside of the shadow of the
"The shadow of the block is the area behind where the block is covering, where the ball can't go, as long as it's a good block. I want to be outside of
that area, so that I can actually dig the ball, that I can pass the ball to the setter."
"I might not be able to hit the ball super hard, or get it down with any offense of any kind, but I think playing libero does take a lot of drive and
determination. Not only do I have to stand there and be focused enough, every time, to get the ball killed at me, but I also have to be able to go and
dive for a ball if I need to."
"It's really about making sure you're engaged in the play, all the time, even if you can't get the big kill."
This team-first mentality is just one of the positives that coach Schweyer identified as he ascended from the role of Lo-Ellen senior boys volleyball
assistant coach last fall. "You look at the skill set, you look at the size, and then you look at the attitude, and all of those pieces were
there," he said.
"It's just a matter of whether they could get into a system or not, and then make the adjustments within the game." Inheriting what amounted to pretty
much an entirely new roster, Schweyer fully expected some tinkering to be required as he looked to mold the Knights into a championship caliber team.
"You have a system in mind, how you would like to play, and then you modify based on the players you have," he stated. "Most of the players fit the model
that I want, but there's a couple that don't. So we just modify tempo of the sets, spacing off the net, things like that. For me, it's about serving tough,
passing well, and running the crap out of the middle."
"You run the middle hard because that holds the blocks and releases the outside hitters." Schweyer is fully aware that his finished product might lie a
year or two away. In the meantime, the OFSAA first for a very young team certainly offers some value.
"It's about taking where we are at, looking at what the top teams are doing that we're not doing, and then having the players see that, so that when I
talk about it, they'll understand it visually."
The 2018 Lo-Ellen Park senior boys volleyball team also includes Ethan Rogers, Kurtis Wennerstrom, Ryan Deresti, Laydon Bursey, Amine Nailli, Sam
Crichton, Thomas Bourdon, Jaden Martin, Jacob Schweyer and assistant coach Jeff Bursey.
Schweyer should have little issue convincing his 2019 roster that there is still plenty to be learned after the Knights were sent packing after round
robin play, the result of an 0-4 showing in their pool.
Lo-Ellen lost to the St Marcellinus Spirit from Mississauga (14-25, 11-25), the Neil McNeil Maroons from Toronto (14-25, 15-25), the
St Peter's Knights from Ottawa (20-25, 25-20, 9-15) and the Ancaster Royals (17-25, 21-25).