Fair is fair.
A week ago this time, I took the local school boards to task, albeit quite mildly and in a very balanced column, if I do say so myself, over the fact that more has not been done to at least investigate the possibility of relaxing the restrictions on use of school venues by local community groups, most notably Sudbury sport organizations.
So if it's acceptable to chide those in charge when some feel that more could be done, so too is it expected that kudos be shared when those same folks take a leadership role in helping sport and athletics move forward.
As many are aware, the SDSSAA (Sudbury District Secondary Schools' Athletic Association) was, as far as we can tell, one of only a tiny such groups in the province to create any kind of competitive fall high-school sports menu, of any kind, since the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
That slate, these past few months, has included the boys volleyball scene, truncated as it were, which would play host to three "pool championship" matchups over the course of the past two weeks.
The cavalcade of finals was initiated with a four set battle between the Chelmsford Flyers and Lively Hawks, who joined with the Sudbury Secondary North Stars to comprise Pool 2 of the senior boys groupings. Ultimately, the CVDCS victory was more than a little rewarding for a first year coach and a crew that really came together to make things happen.
"We definitely had a newer team," noted coach Haley McKee, a native of Alliston who is still getting her feet settled under her in northern Ontario. "We don't have a lot of students, so just getting enough boys out for the team was a struggle."
To that end, the Flyers welcomed Skylar Dale and Ellis Albrecht, with both girls also part of a Chelmsford team that captured a junior co-ed volleyball banner in May of 2019 as well. Still, a roster of just nine (Memphis Andrews, Caleb St John, Nick Teske, Justin Meilleur, Owen Dane, Cameron Roy and Dylan Peltier rounded out the team) can make it challenging when you are busy preparing for the big game.
"To be able to have a good structured practice was troublesome," said McKee. "It's not as easy as if you have ten or eleven players there, where you have more options as to what you can run." Yet the Flyers would overcome, spotting the Hawks a 25-20 win, out of the gate, before taking three straight sets.
"We came out dead flat," acknowledged McKee. "I was like, "oh crap, this is not looking good". We had to get our energy back and actually play volleyball. In the first set, we weren't talking and in the second set, our voices came back. It made a world of difference."
Despite almost everything being different, the Lasalle Junior Lancers continued to roll, besting the Lo-Ellen Park Knights in the final. "I don't think that we really got that close to what a usual season would look like," confessed Lasalle left side Cale Bast. "It was awkward, wearing masks on the court and everything."
"But there was a lot of progress," he continued. "At the start of the year, we weren't that great - but you could see that everyone could be really good. We spent a lot of time on the basics, passing and volleying - and our hitting improved a lot by the end."
Joining Bast with the Orange and Black were Tyler Brouillette, James Welsh, Ashton Eadie, Cameron Potvin, David Bates, Oak Runia, Brady Tyson, Ethan Lalonde, Andre Boulet, Quinn Bardell, Tyler Thompson and Mikey Repuszka.
"They have so much potential," stated head coach Dale Beausoleil. "It's a group that has a lot of height, a lot of athleticism. They missed out on tournament play, this year, which made it tough, but they improved so much, especially over the past two weeks. They were incredible in the final."
It's an outlook that is not lost at all on one of the players in the middle of the excitement. "We are pretty well-rounded, but I still think we could improve everywhere," said Bast. "Hopefully, we can make it to OFSAA next year."
Missing out, quite likely, on a trip to OFSAA this year was the Lo-Ellen Park Senior Knights, following their 25-16, 25-18, 25-20 triumph over Lasalle in the season finale. Even with a full slate of local high school entries, both the Lancers and Knights were expected to emerge as the last two teams standing this fall.
Loaded with talent right across the roster, Lo-Ellen coach James Schweyer suggested their success was largely due to executing well on the fundamentals of volleyball. "It's the standard - does your team pass well and serve well," he said. "If you win the serving and passing, then typically, you win the match."
"If the other team can't pass the tough serve, it's pretty easy to play good defense against a bad pass. Conversely, if you pass well and give your setter three hitting options each time, then it makes it more difficult for the other team to play defense."
Though it was a given that Lo-Ellen could clearly pass and serve, there were early question marks surrounding the setting, given the graduation of Ryan Deresti. Enter Ethan Rogers, far more well-known for his outstanding skills on the badminton court during his time as a Knight.
Despite playing four years of volleyball at Lo-Ellen, the 18 year-old had never tackled arguably the most complex role on the court. Thankfully, it all started to come together fairly early in the year.
"In my first couple of practices, someone would yell a "fifteen", which is a high left-side ball, and I would set them that," said Rogers. "But as we played more, I kind of realized what different people liked. I could set left sides to everyone, but people prefer them a little different: higher, or outside, or whatever."
"I got a good grasp of who my hitters were and what they liked, especially with middle balls," he continued. "Logan (Spicer) is a really good jumper, so I can set him a metre above the net and he can hit it."
Dax Mazzuchin, Asher Kolari, Samuel Dewit, Calen Jutila, Kurtis Wennerstrom, Ethan Scott, Jacob Schweyer and Jack Sheehan comprised the balance of the senior Knights. In the end, players and coaches alike shared a very common sentiment.
"It was a bonus to get to play volleyball this year," said Rogers. "I was really excited when I found out we would have a season."
Rainbow District School Board officials should definitely be commended for that.