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Venturing along a volleyball voyage that was clearly a different flight path

When it comes to sports, family lineage is a common reality.

Countless are the examples of interest in a particular athletic pursuit, or sport, in general, being passed along from one generation to the next.

That is not the story of Laura Aubertin.

"I am the strange bird in our family, in many respects," noted the retired physical education teacher, whose passion for volleyball has been exhibited via her involvement as a player, a coach and an official, the latter of which continues to this day.

Yet even the spark which launched this volleyball voyage was somewhat unorthodox for the middle of five children in the family, and the only one who has not remained particularly close to the Aubertin homestead in Sault Ste Marie.

More of a basketball prospect during her high-school days at Korah Collegiate, Laura would attend Laurentian University, anxious to showcase her hoop prowess on the hard-court in Sudbury.

The year was 1976. Laurentian's head coach was Hall of Famer, Norm Vickery. The Voyageurs were smack dab in the midst of a five-year run as national university champions, and Aubertin, as a walk-on, had very little perspective of exactly what she was about to encounter.

"I didn't realize that you needed some elite basketball background to get there," recalled the 62 year-old Valley East resident. "Here I was on the court with players who had played at the 1976 Olympics."

Allowed to remain aboard as a redshirt in her freshman year, Aubertin was cut loose the following September, landing, quite thankfully, with the L.U. women's volleyball team. And though this squad was competing in the Tier II circuit of the OUA, it was a three year stint with the team that set the wheels in motion for what has become a four decade long ride with what quickly became her sport of choice.

It many ways, it started with Rob Perfect, named as the head coach of the women's team at Laurentian after suiting up for a few years with Kit Lefroy and the men's crew. "The first thing that he did was to make us get rid of the knee pads that we had," recalled Aubertin. "It taught us to move our feet, which is one of the biggest things in volleyball that you need, to move to the ball."

"The ball doesn't move to you."

"He broke down every skill for us, and taught it right from the basics," added Aubertin. "I think that was the basis for my knowledge."

As for her love of the game, that tended to be a somewhat more organic metamorphosis, shedding aside her engrained basketball bias in favour of a new pastime. "I think I realized just how technical a sport that volleyball is, how difficult it is to learn, and the satisfaction that you get when your teammates come along with you," she said.

"In volleyball, you need your teammates to come with you."

While her pursuit of a degree in Physical Education and subsequent teachers college diploma would be interrupted with a six year hiatus, a period of self-discovery that Aubertin remains quite thankful for, her volleyball involvement, as a coach and official, was still chugging forward, full tilt.

"You look at the game totally differently (as a referee, versus as a coach), and the trick to survive is not allowing one to take over while you are doing the other," said Aubertin, one of a very small handful of fully certified Level 3 volleyball officials in Sudbury. "Now, with not coaching anymore, I need to keep that perspective."

"I can't coach from the stand."

All of which is not easy for Aubertin. While her start in coaching and refereeing both date back to her late teens/early twenties, it is her role as the former that she most identifies with.

Starting in 1980 at Sault Collegiate Institute, with stops at Grey Highlands Secondary School (Flesherton), Chelmsford Valley District Composite School, Lo-Ellen Park, Sudbury Secondary, Northeastern Secondary, French River DSS and finally Confederation Secondary (where she remained for 16/17 years), Aubertin was a mainstay on the bench of school volleyball teams, both boys and girls.

That latter transition would require a tad of strategic tinkering, though Aubertin insisted that the ability to connect with the athlete is somewhat universal. "The skills are the skills, but how you approach the tactics is definitely different," she said. "Men play more of a power game, the girls are more finesse."

"The rallies are longer with the girls, the power is just not as explosive - but the strategy has to be more in depth. As a coach, you have to be able to read the athlete and motivate that athlete. I think that depends far more on the athlete, himself or herself. Coaching is not an easy thing to do, and nobody is perfect at it."

While you can still find Laura Aubertin on the stand for many a local outing - "I want to keep officiating until I can't" – her favourite memories likely lie with the teams that she has guided, helping to shape volleyball talent into young adults. "One of the biggest rewards of coaching and spending that much time with the kids is seeing a lot of those kids that I have coached who are now coaching," she said.

"That was one of the biggest reasons that I started coaching, was to give back to the kids the same things that were given to me."

Bitten by the travel bug more recently, an undertaking that she starting pursuing more fervently in 1998, Aubertin has enjoyed treks to Hawaii (7-8 times), Spain, Greece, Austria, Kenya and much of North America, but still finds time for volleyball.

Her coaching path is one that she has shared with the likes of Holly Wickett and Bruce Holden, Mike Margarit, Jen Stobo and Craig Thompson, among others.

It might not stay true to the Aubertin family lineage, but it's a journey the woman who is all things volleyball would not change for anything.

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