A mix of the old and the new with SDSSAA championship contenders
by Randy Pascal
With anywhere from six to eight weeks to go before another handful of winter sport high-school champions are crowned, it's become clear that at least
some of the more traditionally familiar faces will be part of the mix when the playoffs begin next month.
Thankfully, there are at least a few pockets where newcomers to the dance are all but assured of emerging, as some of the leagues witness a changing of
the guard, of sorts, from recent years.
Perhaps nowhere is the transition more dramatic than in the senior girls volleyball ranks, where the Confederation Chargers and Lockerby
Vikings have recently ruled the roost, meeting in three straight SDSSAA championship encounters.
But with the Chargers in tough at 3-3 and the Vikes not even guaranteed to make the post-season at 2-5, all signs point towards one of the troika of the
Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes (7-0), the Horizon Aigles (6-1) or the Lo-Ellen Park Knights (5-1) walking off with Sudbury bragging
rights in mid-February.
For Lo-Ellen, this marks a return to habitual territory, having claimed the banner no less than nine times since 1994. Notre-Dame and Horizon, however,
would be breaking new ground, with neither school enjoying a senior girls volleyball celebration since the hardware was first doled out in 1968.
“We knew this year that we could kind of come in as the underdog, so we use that to our advantage,” noted powerful Horizon left-side Geneviève
Gauthier. The grade 12 senior was a force to be reckoned with on Monday as the Aigles made their biggest statement of the year, taking down the Knights
in a five set classic (25-18, 19-25, 22-25, 25-15, 15-10).
The turning point would come in the fourth set, after Horizon had led 21-17 in the third, only to surrender eight of the contest's final nine points. “It
was tough, because we had the lead and lost the lead,” said Gauthier. “Our defense was getting a little shaky, we were missing some serves. We knew that we
had to go all out in the fourth set.”
“We worked together, played our positions and it really worked out in the end.” If the defense was not up to par in the latter stages of the third set,
it was honestly one of the rare occasions throughout the night, as the Aigles' defenders made a point of launching themselves selflessly at each and every
ball that crossed the net.
“Our number one thing has always been defense, because defense wins games,” said Gauthier. “This year, we have a few new people. Mackenzie Selk,
in grade nine, is amazing on defense. And also, we have our libero, Leah (Lavallée). Everyone really helps out, but those two are key. Amber
(Amber-Ann Jacques), one of our left sides, she runs everything down and gets to everything.”
Yet another area where new blood might be infused to championship records is the SDSSAA varsity girls hockey ranks. The Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes
have captured the past three city titles, and seven of the last twelve, with the St Charles College Cardinals (3) and the Lockerby Vikings (2)
splitting the remaining five.
That said, it's the high flying Lo-Ellen Park Knights, looking down upon the seven team Division I loop with their unblemished record of 9-0-0, that are
seeking to claim the crown for the very first time in school history.
When it comes to boys basketball, the Lasalle Lancers can boast a resumé that is at very least the equal (and likely even more impressive) than
that of the CND hockey girls. And with an extremely well-balanced lineup and their current mark of 9-0, the team under the guidance of coach Joel Rehel
would certainly be considered the front-runners if playoffs were to start tomorrow.
That said, it would be unwise to count out any of the top five, all of whom have proven themselves capable of matching Lasalle for extended periods of
time, even if not yet for four full quarters. The 3rd place versus 2nd place semi-final, in particular, is shaping up to be a great one, based largely on
the incredible parity in the upper echelon of the Division I standings.
After dropping a 49-48 decision to Notre-Dame earlier in the year, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights rebounded on Tuesday, holding on for a 55-51 triumph in a
contest that featured four different lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
“We were up by 16 or 17 in the first quarter and let them come back,” noted 17 year old veteran Carter Smrke after the game. “We managed to pull
it through in the end, but we shouldn't have let them come back in the first place. CND is a good shooting team, so we needed to find the shooter. We
needed to have someone stay close to Anthony Rogerson, and stay out of foul trouble.”
“I think we're faster and longer than them, so we needed to run the court,” he added. Dropping a one point affair to Lasalle in early December (46-45),
but turning around and losing to Macdonald-Cartier by eight ten days later, Smrke and his teammates have seen first hand just how topsy-turvy the league
can be this year.
“I think it's just going to take a good game,” he said. “If we have one of those nights, I think we can beat any team in the city. And I think if any
other team in the city has a good night and we're not on our game, they can beat us too.”
That type of uncertainty also runs rampant in the varsity boys hockey league. Yes, until they are unseeded, the St Charles College Cardinals, winners in
five of the past seven years, including 2017-2018, would have to be considered the favourites.
But with league standings jammed tight – Horizon (11-2-0); Confederation (10-2-0); St Charles (9-2-1); Bishop Carter (7-4-2); Lo-Ellen (7-4-1) – and
with a whole slew of very close games already in the books, this might well be a year in which the odds-makers sit on their money rather than chance what
should be a highly intriguing post-season schedule.