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Friday, May. 24, 2019
Love and marriage - and volleyball coaching, of course
by Randy Pascal

Tom and Kathy Sutton have been married for some 19 years now. For more than twenty, however, the pair have been at each others side, coaching volleyball.

Ironically, it was basketball, not volleyball, that initially drew Kathy Daichendt, now Sutton, to Sudbury.

“I was recruited to Laurentian to play (basketball) for Peter Ennis in 1987,” recalled the native of St Catharines. “It was the lure of playing for one of the best teams in Canada that brought me up here.”

A graduate of Merritton High School, Sutton and her secondary schoolmates had enjoyed quite a degree of athletic success from the institution that was eventually closed, in 2014, due to declining enrollment. A pair of OFSAA volleyball medals and one at OFSAA basketball were proof positive of a very special environment for the sports-minded teens.

“I was lucky to have great coaches in high school, in all sports,” said Sutton. Unfortunately, a knee injury two years after her arrival to the Lady Vees would curtail her basketball career. But in what amounts to as wonderful a silver lining as one could ask for, she would meet Tom a short time later, with both pursuing their studies at Laurentian.

He was a member of the varsity volleyball team, she was trying to find a way to remain active in sport. “We started out by running a club (volleyball) team at Laurentian,” she noted. “There was a group of girls that wanted to play and were pretty good. We played on the OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) tour for about ten years.”

By the time the late 1990's rolled around, Kathy was ready to forego the grind of battling it out on the court in favour of working hand in hand with her soon to be husband along the sidelines, manning the bench. “I think we play well off each other,” she said. “Sometimes, Tom will take one tact and I will support him. Other times, I will take a tact and he will support me.”

“It's a strength of ours. We each have our own strengths, so we use each other well with that.”

In fact, like pretty much any good coaching tandem, Kathy and Tom Sutton feature some very distinct differences within a landscape strewn with similarities. “I'm really interested in the sports psych stuff, the team dynamics,” said Kathy, who started her studies in Physical Education, ended up graduating with a degree in Kinesiology, and capped off her academic resumé with a Masters in Biology.

“I think that I also help him out a lot with the stats, I've always done the stats. But we have a similar enough coaching philosophy that I am able to just add pieces.” Though their first taste of high-school volleyball coaching came via a brief stint with the Sudbury Secondary School North Stars, it was really as the guiding force behind a stream of championships with the Lo-Ellen Park Knights where the Suttons truly carved out a niche in the local sports scene.

“We had great athletes, smart kids,” said Kathy. “At Lo-Ellen, the philosophy was very much to push towards championships, always with the idea of going to OFSAA and medalling at OFSAA.” For the better part of more than a decade, the pair remained a fixture throughout the entire school year, moving from the boys season in the fall and on through to the girls teams every winter.

“The girls game is less aggressive, more defensive oriented,” explained Sutton. “There is more size with the boys at the net, the hits are stronger. But in terms of the systems that we were running, we were always running consistently the same, between the boys and the girls.”

While Kathy Sutton has “officially” served as an assistant coach for the Cambrian Golden Shield men's volleyball team for the past three plus years, she has been very much part of the fabric since her husband was named to the head coaching post back in March of 2013.

Duplicating their high-school record has proven to be an elusive goal within the ranks of the OCAA. In fact, the landscape that has challenged the men's program locally, has made reaching something close to overall competitiveness a target that the Cambrian crew have yet to achieve with consistency. Sutton, for her part, understands some of the obstacles that need to be cleared, as well as the positive steps upon which they can hang their collective hats.

“We struggle with the fact that the (academic) programs at our school are often two, maybe three year programs,” she said. “To develop a kid whose going to be able to play a Conestoga, Mohawk, with consistent skills, that takes time. That's our main struggle.”

“And even though some of the high school coaches do a really good job in terms of skill development, we don't really have a good (boys) club system in town. We just don't have that many guys who are used to competing at a high level of volleyball.”

“But the guys that we have are just fantastic people, they're just nice guys,” she continued. “Yes, we all get frustrated at times, but they all want to win. They don't always know how to do it, or maybe more how to maintain it. I'm proud of the fact that at any given moment, within a stretch of five points or so, we can compete with absolutely anybody, a Fanshawe included.”

“However, we don't have the ability to maintain that. I think we're getting the skill sets, but we have to have that mental desire to put it all out there.” In the end, Sutton will measure success beyond the playing field. “They're graduating, they're getting work, they still come back,” she said. “I'm really proud of the fact that we are starting to develop a really nice Cambrian volleyball family.”

All in the family is really what the Suttons' volleyball coaching is all about.

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