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Friday, May. 24, 2019
This group of Knights making their first OFSAA appearance
by Randy Pascal

A little over a week ago, just getting to OFSAA was the biggest hurdle that lie directly in front of the Lo-Ellen Park Knights senior girls volleyball team. Just four days prior to hosting the NOSSA "AAA" Championships, the Knights had been swept aside in the city final, vanquished in just three sets by the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes.

Turning the tables with a berth at the provincial playdowns on the line, the Knights clearly wanted to savour the moment, as every single athlete on the team will make their first ever OFSAA appearance this week in Burlington.

"We're enjoying it right now," noted head coach Steve Dunlop - a role that he shares with Sheldon Root - at practice last Thursday. "We have let the players know that it's a heightened level of intensity (at OFSAA), that teams will play above their heads."

That said, the opportunity to partake in the all-Ontario event was not one which snuck up, in any way, on this talented Lo-Ellen crew. "I think we definitely thought we could get to the (city) finals, because a lot of people had graduated from those teams (Confederation and Lockerby, who had met for three straight years in the SDSSAA gold medal game)," noted veteran setter Erin Gaffney.

"We had to go into every game not expecting to win, we knew that we always had to work hard," she added. "I think we're a pretty good offensive team, and we also have a lot of energy and good communication."

While Gaffney has fine-tuned her role as a setter, combining her high-school experience with several years with the Northern Chill Volleyball Club, there is one added twist that she has particularly enjoyed with the 2018-2019 Knights.

"It's pretty much the same, not much has changed, except that on this team, we have a left-handed right side (Lauren Jeanneault)," said Gaffney. "I have to set her more inside. It's definitely fun to set a left-handed hitter, but it's definitely a different set. I have to adjust every practice."

"Being able to hit left-handed, I never really understood, until now, why it could be so dangerous," acknowledged Jeanneault, a 16 year old grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen. "I'm open to the court so much better. I don't know how to explain it, but I can swing different ways than a right-handed person."

"I can hit down the line, I can hit deep corners, or I can ever hit a sharp cross, if I really tried." Still, she suggested that the success of her team in recent weeks might be far more intrisic than tactical or strategic.

"A lot of people don't believe us when we say that having fun is the most important thing, but the girls here are so much fun and I really think that's what makes us play so good together," suggested Jeanneault. With several of their teammates joining both Gaffney and Jeanneault with club volleyball experience on their resumé, there is at least a sense on this team that a first trek to OFSAA need not be particularly overwhelming.

"I wouldn't expect it to be that different, because a lot of the girls that I know that play club are also going to OFSAA with their school team," said Jeanneault. "I'm not saying that we will win, but I think we can keep up with them."

As for the coaches, they insist they are prepared to take everything in stride. "We have focused predominantly on team oriented game play goals," said Dunlop. "A huge portion of the momentum swings, not just in volleyball, is due to communication."

"When you start hearing the girls, when you hear the chatter and see that high level of intensity, that momentum is huge. To me, that was one of the key parts that we were missing early on in the season." And with the later stages of their campaign now upon them, the Lo-Ellen Park crew will need to capture that excitement at every possible moment.

"We know that northern teams have faced a tough environment down there," said Dunlop. "And we haven't had a chance to play any southern Ontario teams, so there isn't much of a reference to go on. We just want to go down and compete and have fun."

The seeding committee certainly reflected Dunlop's comments, as the Knights found themselves slotted as #18 in a field of twenty teams. Day one play on Monday suggested that the Lo-Ellen girls will have their work cut out for them to enjoy match play beyond their pool competition.

The NOSSA champs dropped their opening encounter to the second-seeded Dr Frank J Hayden Secondary School Huskies from Burlington (8-25, 8-25) and fell to 0-2 thanks to a 20-25, 10-25 setback at the hands of the Glebe Collegiate Institute Gryphons from Ottawa.

The Knights close out round robin play with day two (Tuesday, March 5th) battles against the Eastview Wildcats from Barrie (#15) and the Uxbridge Tigers (#5).

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