Missing out on a full year of sport participation is not something I would wish upon any child or youth.
Missing out on a full year of potential improvement when your dreams are geared towards post-secondary athletics, and are so close you can touch them, well, that simply isn’t an option.
That is precisely why long-time Northern Chill volleyballers Alexia Lemay-Evans and Kameryn Vanwallegham have grinded their way forward, using whatever sources remained available to them, ensuring progression at a time when some form of regression is common.
“Grade 11 is a pretty important year when it comes to being recruited for post-secondary,” noted Lemay-Evans, a Class of 2022 projected graduate of College Notre-Dame who turns 17 years old come September.
“It’s kind of that point where coaches come to watch you play, you go on campus visits, you start making decisions. Without that, at first, it was really stressful. You think: how are coaches going to see me?"
“But you realize, in just a few months, that everyone is in the same boat,” added Lemay-Evans.
A full year younger, with one grade in hand but holding an inch or two in height advantage - both girls exceed the 6’0” plateau - Kameryn Vanwallegham maintained a healthy perspective, all while keeping her eyes on the prize: an NCAA scholarship, either in beach or indoor volleyball.
“I know that this is only temporary, I know how hard it’s been on some people,” said the 15 year old grade 10 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. “I focus on the positives, the fact that I can still train and workout in my house, just trying to keep a positive mind that we will play again - perhaps just not right away.”
With team practices at a standstill for the better part of the past 12 months, Vanwallegham took a somewhat different tack in her approach to her workouts. “I’ve been focusing more on building my vertical, getting more core strength and overall, just building more muscle to be able to hit the ball harder,” she said.
“It’s mostly training my legs and improving my vertical so that I can jump higher.”
Almost unheard of just one year ago, on-line workouts and zoom meetings with coaches are now completely the norm. Sport will adapt, if somewhat by necessity.
“Last year, with Team Ontario, we were working on blocking,” Lemay-Evans recalled. “They suggested setting up a screen in front of you and watching a volleyball game. As you’re watching, pretend that you are in the game, trying to block. I would have never thought of that.”
Still, there is an element of family creativity that clearly has helped. “My dad built me a volleyball board,” Lemay-Evans continued. “It’s a plaque with wood and you use two by fours to make it stand at a certain angle.”
“I can hit off the board and the ball comes back, so it’s continuous, to work on my arm swing. There’s a lot of DIY - do it yourself stuff. We have a volleyball with strings, attached to a two by four, something that we can approach and hit through the ball. You figure it out with what you have at home.”
You figure it out if you are pushing the reach the next level. And for good measure, both Lemay-Evans and Vanwallegham have signed on with Six Pack Recruiting Sports, a service established by former volleyball Dale Ann Melnick, a star with both the University of Georgia and York University volleyball teams.
She has also coached at pretty much every level, from the grass roots to the junior national team.
I just think you are a little more likely to get noticed through a recruiter because they have connections, they have ties,” Vanwallegham agreed. “I really do think that having a recruiter is beneficial for me, given the pandemic, with coaches not able to see you play.”
“Whether you like it or not, being in northern Ontario can be a disadvantage,” acknowledged Lemay-Evans. “You’re not exposed to as many opportunities. Making provincial programs helps, but a lot of the kids down south are constantly training with these (post-secondary) coaches.”
With a lot of work and a little luck, the entire process will hopefully help both talented teens reach their goals - even though this is one area they definitely differ. “I really enjoy the beach game a lot more than the court, but if I was to receive an offer from one of the schools that has the program that I want and top academics, I would probably take that,” said Vanwallegham.
“I would really like to get a beach offer, just because that is something I would like to do, in the future. I just feel more comfortable on the beach, it comes more naturally to me.”
“Indoor has always been a priority for me,” countered Lemay-Evans. “When I look at post-secondary, indoor is always where I was heading. I’m more experienced with indoor - and as you gain experience, you become more confident, so indoor is a more comfortable environment for me.”
“If beach comes as an opportunity later on, that’s fine.”
Partners, both on the court in beach volleyball and frequently in workouts, the local volleyball duo have enjoyed no lack of help from a variety of Sudbury sources, including Kameryn’s father Kurtis, who played on the pro beach circuit in Canada for seven years or so.
“That has been such a huge blessing, learning with Kurtis,” said Lemay-Evans. “Beach was just something to do in the summers, when I started - but I’ve improved so much, working with him.”
And beyond the physical, much time has been spent delving into the emotional mindset that is key for all those who truly aspire for greater things. “We talk about the passion, the love of the sport,” said Lemay-Evans. “If you are going to commit that much time to the sport, you have to enjoy the process, the idea of trying and failing.”
“I had never really looked at it that way.”