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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
A little more on the line when Shield and Viperes collide
by Randy Pascal

By the very nature of the in-town collegiate rivalry, the twice-annual midweek doubleheader meeting of the volleyball programs that opposes the Collège Boréal Vipères and the Cambrian Golden Shield is pretty much ensured of providing fans good solid value for their entertainment dollar.

Throw in a season when the teams are within spitting distance of one another in the OCAA West Division standings, and the intensity and heat on the court is more than enough to offset the current polar vortex.

That was the case Wednesday in New Sudbury, as the Cambrian crew completed their 2018-2019 home and home set with Boréal amidst the awareness of the Bell Canada “Let's Talk” mental health campaign.

Generally speaking, hyped as they may be for this match, the Vipères women's team struggle to keep pace with the tradition of competitiveness that Golden Shield coach Dale Beausoleil has established on the opposite side of the court. But one need harken back no further than to the four set 25-16, 29-27, 14-25, 25-22 Cambrian victory in late November to understand that this is no ordinary year.

Combine a rebuilding squad for the home team with an improving francophone side under rookie head coach Frank Legault, and one could sense the makings of a closer-than-usual match-up. But prepping to host provincials later this month, Cambrian would have none of it, sweeping aside the Vipères 25-10, 25-18, 25-19.

“We've been working hard on serve receive the past few weeks,” said Beausoleil. “In the first two sets, I thought we passed well. What we are really working on right now is getting ready for the playoffs. In the third set, we were kind of fooling around with our serve receive to see who is passing well, who our best passers are. If we can pass the ball, we'll at least have a chance at provincials.”

With 12 of his 13 player roster still in first or second year at the college, Beausoleil has stressed the need for his youngsters to assimilate his teachings more quickly than if he had the benefit of a more experienced roster, allowing for a more gradual easing in process with new recruits.

Not the case this year, a situation that is perhaps compounded, at times, with some shifting of traditional positions. “I played middle in high-school, now I play power here, because we had no back-up,” noted 20 year old Lasalle Secondary graduate Jade Gauthier. “I really wanted to play middle when I first got here. Now, I don't want to leave power. I don't have to run around the court as much.”

That's just one of the changes that the local sophomore has endured in recent years. Chances are if you recognize her name at all, it would have more likely been for her accomplishments as a member of the Lancers basketball team. “I always played basketball because I was good at it, but I always enjoyed putting in the work more to get better at volleyball,” she said.

“I always liked playing volleyball more than basketball.”

And while Gauthier is returning for her second year with the Shield, her freshman season was truthfully more of a “watch and learn” campaign. “Last year, when I got on the court, I was like, “he didn't really just say my name, did he?”, she said with a smile. “Now, I feel like I am kind of becoming a bit more of a leader.”

Same goes for Boréal setter Zoé Gagné, also in her second year of post-secondary play. And just like the Shield, the Vipères feature only one player in third year or higher (Brianne Chouinard). This has forced the likes of Gagné, a product of the volleyball-rich Franco-Cité Patriotes program in Sturgeon Falls, to rise quickly to the forefront.

“The girls look to me for advice, they come and talk to me if they have a problem,” she said. Away from the court, that's no issue. On the court, she is still a little out of character. “I was surprised at how vocal I needed to be,” noted Gagné, who made the switch to setter only upon her arrival at Boréal.

“I used to be a middle and used to play only half the time, getting libbed out,” she explained, the process by which middles are regularly substituted for the team libero (defensive specialist) during the course of their back-court rotation. “I really did not need to be as much of a presence on the court.”

With the bulk of their lineup returning, Gagné is confident that Legault, a former coach at Franco Cité, has accurately identified the biggest skill-set needed for their program to leap forward in terms of competing in a very tough West Division grouping. “Serve receive is one of the key elements that we struggle with,” she said.

“He (Legault) has already started to look at recruiting players who are good passers. If you can pass, you can pass. If not, you struggle. With good passers, their base is solid, they're not afraid, they're not shifting, they're under the ball, they're ready, not reaching for the ball.”

If the Boréal women had hoped to keep it closer in their game, the men representing their school had even greater expectations, having registered a five set 25-20, 25-22, 24-26, 23-25, 15-9 victory in the first half. Though they had to overcome a bit of a sluggish start, it was the Cambrian lads that would even the score this time around, stopping the Vipères 24-26, 25-18, 25-15, 25-21.

“We definitely didn't play our best in the first set,” noted 20 year-old second year Cambrian middle Michael Aiabens. In fact, it was a far cry from the game-plan that came about after the Shield took time to examine their earlier loss to their rivals. “We picked up on a couple of things that we saw in the tape from the last game,” said the graduate of St Charles College.

“We realized that we didn't really play the game that we wanted to play. We got our serves in more this time.” In fact, serving efficiency was a key component in this contest, just as it is in most men's volleyball games, with so many players armed and ready to uncork a jump and spin serve with as much pace as they can humanly muster.

Not the case for Aibans, who enjoyed a great deal of success on Wednesday by sticking with his approach that stands in stark contrast to the bulk of his teammates. “I think it's more or less because I get no spin on my serves,” said the young man who might be the quickest on the court at sending the ball into orbit, immediately upon the whistle of the referee.

“I just have it down now, so that I can put it pretty much where I want, always picking the seams and the corners. I shoot it off right away. It's not like a take a big leap and they can see where I'm going to go. It will dip up and down, sometimes side to side, but you really need to make sure you get good solid contact on it. If you get a little bit of a spin, it will float, but you won't get the same effect."

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