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Friday, May. 24, 2019
A weekend of NOSSA retribution
by Randy Pascal

It was a weekend of retribution, of sorts, at NOSSA playdowns, as at least a couple of local teams emerged as champions after standing as bridesmaids one week earlier at their respective city finals.

That said, the squads arrived at this end goal in somewhat different fashions.

At Lo-Ellen Park Secondary, the Knights senior girls volleyball team rode home court advantage, a few timely adjustments, and some unfortunate but “very material injuries” (in the words of head coach Sheldon Root) to opposing starters in ousting the Collège Notre Dame Alouettes 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-18 in the NOSSA “AAA” championship encounter.

The tables had been turned on Tuesday evening when the two teams convened at CND with a SDSSAA banner on the line. “We got a good look at what kind of system they run, their defensive structure,” explained Root, as his team now prepares for the OFSAA tournament in Burlington next week. “They are an outside dominant team. There was a lot of focus put into that, leading into NOSSA, knowing that they were likely our strongest competition.”

That was exactly how it turned out, an all-Sudbury final, with Lo-Ellen entering play as the top seed thanks to a 25-18, 25-17 victory earlier in the day over the Alouettes. “We went undefeated in pool play, when CND was at full strength,” noted Root. By the time the gold medal match was hitting a midway point, the Alouettes were without power Brielle Chicoine and setter Haven Fournier, both sidelined with ankle injuries.

“They were still able to take a set from us,” noted Root. “They did not have a long bench, only six players left after the injuries, but there's a lot of talent on that team.” That said, there was no doubt the Knights came to play, which was one of the two areas that the Lo-Ellen coaching staff had sought to address heading into the single day showdown.

“We had to make sure our girls were hungry,” said Root. “And our setter, Erin Gaffney, was able to identify who was hitting well on our team (Lauren Jeanneault, in particular). Instead of it being a heavily defensive game, we were actually able to go back after them. That was a key part that I felt was missing in earlier games against them.”

The Lo-Ellen juniors made it a clean sweep of the “AAA” banners, topping the Chippewa Raiders from North Bay, 25-20, 25-18. But it was not only the female Knights that were settling the score at NOSSA.

Catching perhaps something of a break when the St Mary's Knights from Sault Ste Marie upset the favoured Lasalle Lancers in the NOSSA Boys Basketball AA/AAA tournament at Lasalle, despite trailing by 20 at the half, coach Mac Bertrand and company bested their Soo namesakes, 52-37. Abraham Soumahoro paced the attack with 12 points, with Fraser Larocque and Jacob Schweyer chipping in with eight and seven respectively.

Just a week earlier, the Lancers had weathered a Lo-Ellen rally, early in the second half, pulling away easily to capture the SDSSA banner. “We played immediately after that Lasalle loss,” noted Bertrand. “Our message was always don't look ahead, take the step in front of you.” With their expected championship foe sent packing, the Knights managed to re-focus, stopping the Korah Colts 51-32 to earn their berth in the final.

The major turnaround, however, for the Lo-Ellen lads, would come a couple of months earlier. “There was a lot of ups and downs for us at the beginning of the season,” said Bertrand. “At one point in December, our league record was 2-4 and our season record was 6-11. We were struggling.” And then came a pre-Christmas tournament in Guelph. “We had a lot of conversations about how we needed to play,” stated Bertrand.

“The guys really bought in to working hard, being more patient, getting high percentage shots, and playing better defense.” Notre-Dame Alouettes boys basketball bench boss Martin Nadeau could relate to the benefits of a shifted strategy, mid-stream. “We played Lockerby in one of our last regular season games,” he recalled.

“We were down by almost twenty. So we went all out, five on, five off. It showed me how deep our bench could be.” That, in large part, contributed to the NOSSA “A” banner the Alouettes would claim on home court on Saturday, outscoring the White Pines Wolverines (Sault Ste Marie) 57-46. The trio of Kevin Watson (13), Eric Atoh (12) and Anthony Rogerson (11) showed the way offensively, though the champs would receive contributions right across their roster.

“I knew that I could go nine deep, without any major problems, both offensively and defensively,” said Nadeau. “If we stuck to our game plan, pressured a lot and tired these guys out, by the end, we should have more legs. I think we are playing our best basketball of the season, right now, which is obviously the right time to be peaking.”

Rounding out the CND basketball roster are Denver Roney, Connor Brooks, Sean Roberts, Samuel Cloutier, Nikolas Smith, Maxim Dumais, Ethan Roy and Rueben Winch.

Still another NOSSA playdown being contested locally as Confederation Secondary served as the host school to the NOSSA “A” Girls Volleyball event, with both the St Benedict Bears and Horizon Aigles representing Sudbury hopes in the five team senior field.

Despite dropping their opening match to the Algonquin Barons and going three sets to get past the Bears, the Horizon crew closed out with sweeps over both Espanola and White Pines, earning a final rematch against Algonquin. “Everything we did, they had an answer,” noted Aigles head coach Patrick Gervais.

“We hit well, we served fairly well, we varied our attack. They were always able to make something out of nothing. Experience was a huge factor.” In fact, the Horizon team which lost in straight sets to the Barons in the gold medal affair will graduate only one player, albeit a key one in the form of Geneviève Gauthier.

A returning core of Amber-Ann Jacques, Madison Bergh, Brianne Morin, Amy Vis, Courtney Belliveau, Samia Poulin, Leah Lavallee (all grade 11), as well as Kiera Brabant (10) and Mackenzie Selk (9) bodes well for the future.

“This year showed that we can be taken seriously and that with hard work, we would no longer be at the bottom of the standings, year after year,” said Gervais. “All in all, we are very proud of our season.”

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