Anne Blanchette has worked hard to try and create a sports identity, once again, at École Secondaire Hanmer.
There was a time, in the 1970s and 1980s in particular, when the school on Notre Dame Avenue, then located within spitting distance of the local Drive-In Theatre, would welcome hundreds of high-school students in their halls and in the gym, giving way to many competitive teams.
Numbers, these days, are just not the same.
“It doesn’t matter about the numbers, it matters how much you work,” suggested Jacob Hogue.
The 15 year-old captained the senior boys’ volleyball team to a five set championship final victory over the Lively Hawks, giving the school a Division “B” SDSSAA volleyball banner to adorn the walls of the facility for the first time ever.
“If you work hard for it, you can accomplish almost anything – even with such little numbers.”
Blanchette has seen the school grow somewhat more competitive in recent years, capturing NOSSA “B” championships and a Midget boys basketball crown – but this is the first title for the Sabres in the "other" court sport.
“This group is really a good example of resilience, of desire to really want to do well,” said Blanchette, now more than ten years into her time at ES Hanmer and coach to both the junior and senior boys volleyball teams this fall.
“I definitely have some very athletic students, some very natural athletes on the team. But these athletes, who play both basketball and volleyball, they have a really great mindset. It’s really fun to coach that kind of athlete.”
Now in grade 11, Hogue is a shining example, understanding full well the importance of the role that he plays as a leader on the squad. “Being captain is more a matter of attitude,” he said. “If you show a good attitude to your team, your team is going to have a good attitude in the game.”
Joining Hogue on the roster that features quality over quantity are Martin Boisvert, Mathieu Champagne, Joshia Montpellier, Nathan Cotnoir, Alec Richard, Cody Wahl and Lexine Levac. It’s a group that has clearly garnered the affection of their captain.
“I like how everyone is completely unique,” said Hogue. “They all have their own individual set of skills. One is tall and he’s good at spiking. Another is not so tall but he’s good at receiving. It’s a completely different set of skills.”
It’s also a combination of talent that will now play host to the NOSSA “B" Championship on Thursday, joined by ESC Champlain, ESC Jeunesse-Nord and the Mattawa tandem of ESC Elizabeth-Bruyère and F.J. McElligott.
“In this pandemic, to be able to host something like NOSSA is not something that they’ve experienced; they haven’t been able to live that yet,” said Blanchette. “The whole school wants to be there.”
Hoisting a SDSSAA banner is, by contrast, an experience that the Lasalle senior boys volleyball crew have relished on many occasions. In fact, the Lo-Ellen Park championship one year ago snapped a string of six straight city banners for the Lancers.
Coach Dale Beausoleil and company might now have their sights set on a new streak after upending Lockerby 25-18, 25-19, 25-22 this past Saturday. The season, however, was not without speed bumps as Lasalle dropped a five set regular season match to the Horizon Aigles, a result that may have given some of their rivals a bit of false hope.
"Before that match, we had our heads held high, thinking it was going to be a breeze of a game," noted veteran right-side Cameron Showers. "They came to play; they played really good volleyball. That game caught us off-guard."
“I always think that a loss is not necessarily a bad thing,” said coach Beausoleil. “It got the team thinking: let’s get more serious, let’s wake up, let’s work on the things that we’re not good at. Without tournaments, you don’t get a chance to see what you’re struggling with until you play another team.”
“Once we figured that out, we were full steam ahead.”
"It's been a lot of knowing who our opponents are and what we had to do to better our game against that specific opponent," chimed in Showers.
In fact, the Lancers did not drop so much as a single set in their final six outings, including a pair of playoff encounters. Given the makeup of the lineup of the 2021 city champs, the team was built around their strengths.
“I think we’ve really focused on ball control,” said Beausoleil. “We’re not as big as some of the teams that I’ve had in the past. Our volleyball IQ is probably higher than what I’ve seen, a little bit. Quite a few of these guys have played club; there’s a little more knowledge of the game.”
Owen Pawluk, James Welsh, Mikaio Walia, Tyler Brouillette, Ethan Rose, Miguel Leclaire, Ashton Eadie, Noah Squires, Zach Thompson, Cale Bast, Ethan Lalonde, Oak Runia, Cameron Showers and Quinn Bardell comprise the Lasalle lineup that will try and earn a spot at the OFSAA Championships in North Bay when they battle for NOSSA supremacy this weekend at Lo-Ellen.
A NOSSA title would be the end of the line for the Lockerby Junior Vikings, with no provincial playdowns in place for the grade 9/10 age bracket. One has to like the chances of the LCS crew that earned local bragging rights with a 25-13, 25-15, 25-9 triumph over Lasalle, the only team to take sets for them during the past two months.
“At the start of the season, we’re all good friends, so we were kind of messing around,” admitted grade 10 setter Liam Binks. “He (coach Stephen Beausoleil) had to be strict with us so that we could stay focused. After that, we improved a ton and had a great season.”
Binks could be the poster child for a team which features a number of very natural athletes, none of whom would necessarily list volleyball as their primary sport. An accomplished soccer player and cross-country runner, the 15 year-old has really taken to his role as team setter.
“I love the position that I play,” said Binks. “I made good decisions as a setter. Because I’m not a volleyball player, I don’t have as much technical ability as someone like the Chill players in Sudbury – but making good decisions really helps me.”
In spite of all of their success, Binks and company enter the NOSSA tournament Friday at Lo-Ellen equipped with the ability to overcome the inevitable hurdles that arise, the further one progresses along the championship spectrum.
“This year, we have had some challenges, especially against the Lasalle Lancers,” said Binks. “When they get quite a few points against us, we seem to get a bit rattled. But then we learned that all we had to do is call a timeout and relax a bit, shake it off and play much better.”
Joining Binks on the Lockerby roster are Callum Baron, James Bertrim, Corbin Appleby, Sam George, Zander Kasunich, Matthias Siemann, Atom Thususka, Adam Selalmatzidis, Dilaine Abeyratne, Aiden Purvis, Connor Duffour, Nathan Kane, Owen Turner and coach Stephen Beausoleil.
Rounding out the SDSSAA slate of boys volleyball champions were the Lively Hawks' junior team, which managed to hand the undefeated Hanmer Sabres their first setback of the year in their Division B final.