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Preparing for tournament play that may or may not happen

The OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) schedule of tournaments for 2021 sits on their website, where it always has been - or at least where it has been located in most recent years.

Starting on January 9th with the 17U girls and the 15U boys, running through until March 27th with the 18U girls and the 18U and 13U boys, the 2021 OVA Youth Competitions Calendar outlines a standard array of events, leading into provincials in April.

At a glance, it appears that clubs right across the province, clubs no different than the Northern Chill Volleyball Club, can begin working on their schedules for the first few months of the new year - just like every other year.

But, as we all know, quite frustratingly, this is not a year like any other year.

"We don't know what the year is going to play out like, whether we will have tournaments or not," acknowledged 18U Chill left-side Jaden Martin. "But I love volleyball a lot, so I'm motivated to come back for an extra year, even if it's only to practice."

Just how motivated is the 17 year-old athlete?

Well, consider for a moment that Martin graduated from Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School last June and is now balancing his athletic passion with his first year of Sport and Physical Education studies at Laurentian University.

"With just one practice a week, it's good to get out and be with your teammates," he said. "Just being able to play, regardless of the situation, just to play the sport is great."

And though he recognizes that this is likely his final year of truly competitive volleyball, Martin continues to work on areas of his game in which he has traditionally excelled, as well as those where improvement is required.

"I can jump pretty high - my vertical is there," he said. "To be a left side, you have to have really good court vision, and you have to be a pretty good passer, which is one of my main strengths. It's a well-rounded position - you need to be able to do multiple things well."

The same can be said for the setter position, as 16 year-old grade 11 Lo-Ellen student Sophie Gaffney well knows. While everything that is related to passing skills comes quickly to mind in assessing any setter, the key cog to the 17U Chill girls team appreciates that much needs to be done properly, long before she ever gets her hands on the ball.

"I've been focusing a lot of just getting to the ball early and squaring up my feet," said Gaffney. "You want to be able to square up, but do it without facing where you are going to set, because that kind of gives it away."

"If I can get my feet there, I can make a better set. That's definitely something I am working on."

Expressing her gratitude on simply being in the gym, Gaffney admitted that she has very few issues with a practice setting that might seem a tad foreign to the set-up she had grown used to over her years of involvement with the Chill.

"There are a lot of sanitizers, coaches can't touch the balls, the number of kids on each side of the net might be different," she stated. "You have to wear a mask, but that's everywhere now. It's been pretty good, so far."

"It looks like it's pretty much the same drills as before, just because we have that spacing."

As for the potential tournaments slated for 2021, Gaffney underscored their importance.

"Games give you the best practice," she said. "Games give you the opportunity to showcase what you've actually worked on. It is necessary to have some game play there."

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