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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
The starting point of a journey to excellence
by Randy Pascal

In the end, a pair of set victories was realistically as much as could be reasonably expected from the Cambrian Golden Shield women's volleyball team, hosting the OCAA Championships last weekend in Sudbury.

A 4-16 regular season record was reflective of a very young team, one which showed some very encouraging growth over the course of the 2018-2019 campaign. That was made crystal clear, last Friday, as the Cambrian girls split their opening two sets with an undefeated Durham Lords squad, 19-25, 25-19 at the provincial showcase.

Yes, the Shield would ultimately succumb, falling 17-25 and 14-25 over the course of the next two sets, but the groundwork for a jump to the next level had been set. Rookie Marissa Beeson finished dead even, on the attack, with the one and only graduating talent, Emily Clark, with both women registering 12 kills in the contest.

First and second year players such as Isabelle Rivest, Alison Labrash, Teagan Langis and Maggie Little benefited immensely from the experience. The Cambrian crew were swept in their season series by the St Clair Saints (3-1 and 3-0), but they would put their Windsor foes on their heels right out of the gate in their consolation semi-final on Saturday, defeating the Saints 26-24 before being eliminated by scores of 14-25, 17-25, 22-25.

While Clark was once again front and center, showing the way with another dozen kills, Beeson (6 kills) and Labrash (3) were also in the mix, with the defensive perseverance of both Rivest (13 digs) and Amanda Lawson (11 digs) boding well for the future of the program.

It's not as though head coach Dale Beausoleil and company have not been there before.

Built around a core that included the likes of Shawna Metcalf, Jillian Shell, Stephanie Walker and Kelsey Fielding, the Golden Shield would capture silver, at provincials, in 2011-2012 and bronze the following year.

Though the locals had managed a rare early season tournament win over the vaunted Humber Hawks in October of 2011, the team had no misgivings about their ability to derail a GTA powerhouse that would go on to claim eleven straight OCAA titles, a streak that was snapped just this past weekend in Sudbury, as the Fanshawe Falcons unseeded the collegiate juggernaut.

Undoubtedly, the golden era of the Cambrian women's volleyball program came during a period that extended from the fall of 1999 through to the winter of 2005. Those six years produced a pair of gold medals for the northern gals, along with an equal number of provincial silver medal performances, and one third place finish.

The 2003 gold medal feat will always stand as the first ever OCAA Division I banner that Beausoleil's troops would garner, an epic 23-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19 victory over the Niagara Knights, with Crystal Thomas earning tournament MVP honours.

Just two years later, the Golden Shield would repeat the performance and then some. Not only would the team walk away with their second set of gold medals in three years in 2005, but they would represent Ontario like no team had done in a decade or so.

Cambrian would end a ten-year draught at the CCAA Championships, one which would see no OCAA team reaching the podium at nationals, battling their way to very well-deserved bronze medals in Québec City.

The Sudbury representatives, which included all-Canadians Lisa Martin and Kristin Martel, stopped Grande Prairie (Alberta) 20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-21, after besting Okanagan in the semi-finals. While that span of excellence might owe its genesis to the 1999-2000 group that fell to the Humber Hawks in the OCAA final (25-22, 27-29, 19-25, 16-25), it was preceded by three prior teams that also managed to secure a little extra hardware at provincials.

In fact, all the way back in February of 1990, the Golden Shield needed a 15-8, 15-3, 11-15, 15-4 triumph over the St Lawrence Vikings in the Division II championship encounter just to earn a spot in the Division I tournament, parlaying that first bout of success into a bronze medal showing against the OCAA big boys just a few weeks later.

Five years later, the Shield would bump it up a notch, awarded silver medals for the first time, a showing that they looked to better, yet again, in 1996, if not for a bad break in scheduling. Running the table with a 10-0 mark, the Cambrian girls were ranked 8th in the country entering the OCAA championships.

Divisional play would do the team no favours, as coach Beausoleil and company had to rebound from a heart-breaking 5-15, 15-13, 11-15, 15-10, 13-15 loss to the St Clair Saints, ensuring they did not leave the event empty-handed thanks to a 15-3, 15-5, 15-2 sweep of the Humber Hawks in the bronze medal affair.

“Our semi-final match against St Clair was the final,” surmised Beausoleil. “Being the top two teams, we expected it to be close to the end. It was an amazing match-up. Unfortunately, there had to be a winner and a loser.”

The 1995-1996 squad was led by league scoring champion and OCAA all-star Chella Garcia, joined on the all-star team by power Kelli Toner and middle Michelle Ivy.

Rest assured, the Cambrian women's volleyball team will return to the promised land, and don't be the least bit surprised if that happens sooner rather than later.

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