The upcoming OFSAA basketball and volleyball championships might well be operating at roughly 50% capacity but that hasn’t stopped the local leagues from sending a full delegation of entries to events right across the province this weekend.
No less than five SDSSAA squads are travelling to locations ranging from St Catharines to Kingston, from Smithville to Caledon (SDSSAA teams would have numbered six, if not for some baffling decision making out of North Bay; though that is a story for another column entirely).
And while the field of competing crews in every local ranges from eight to ten entries (versus 16-20 in normal times), the emotions of an upcoming OFSAA championship have not been altered in the least, identical to the hundreds of high-schoolers who enjoyed a similar experience over many many years prior to 2020.
“I’m looking forward to travelling with the team, meeting up with the southern teams,” stated Lasalle Lancers’ setter Miguel Leclair, his lads making the furthest trek to the Limestone City of Kingston. “I want to learn against them, to see how we match up with them.”
The soon-to-be 18 year old is in his first year at Lasalle, having opted for a 12+ campaign after spending his first four secondary school years at E.S. Macdonald-Cartier. And while he has certainly become more volleyball conscious over time – Leclair is now in his fourth year with the Northern Chill Volleyball Club – his move to learn under coach Dale Beausoleil was not completely sport-driven.
“A big part of it was the volleyball,” said Leclair. “However, I come from a french background and I wanted to learn more english terminology to help me for university next year (hopefully engineering).”
For his part, Lockerby Vikings' left-side attacker Matthew Hunt suggested, with a laugh, that if his team had not secured a berth at provincials, they had all agreed to also return for a victory lap season.
Thankfully, that isn’t necessary as the Vikes stopped the Manitoulin Mustangs in three straight sets, capturing the NOSSA “A” banner in Espanola and culminating a gradual progression for the graduating class at LCS.
“Pretty much everyone on this team really didn’t know each other coming into grade nine,” said Hunt, now 17 years old and among a core of grade 12 talent. “Our idea of volleyball and our skills weren’t too great. Over the years, our chemistry has progressed; we began to just connect with each other.”
Thanks to the tutelage of coach Stephen Beausoleil, the boys have also developed some impressive volleyball acumen. At least part of that development came courtesy of the constant battles with their cross-town rivals at Lasalle.
“Because of the talent that they have there, it was definitely a competition that was worth gaining knowledge from for future competitions,” said Hunt. “It really showed us what we needed to improve on.”
Joining Matthew Hunt on the Lockerby lineup are Jack Anderson, Luca Graffi, Alex Frawley, Michael Weise, Joshua Stagg, Andrew Sissons, Connor Heffern, Travis Annett, Eli Gerhardt, Tatum Ostroski and Hunter McLean.
And while a provincial tournament is not in the offing at a junior level, congratulations go out to the Lasalle Lancers grade 9/10 crew who matched the NOSSA banner of their senior counterparts.
The Lancers 2021 junior boys volleyball roster featured Nour Alzahran, Mickael Repuszka, Mackenzie Alisappi, Will Mackey, Jason Digiglio, Cameron Potvin, Davis Mackinnon, Damien Quevillon, David Bates, Brady Tyson, Nathan Radey and Tyler Faccioni-Thompson.
SDSSAA basketball will be represented by the city champion Lo-Ellen Park Knights (“AA” in Niagara Falls), finalist Lasalle Lancers (“AAA” in St Catharines), as well as the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes (“A” in Smithville).
Even with a reduced number of competing teams, the mere staging of these all-Ontario playdowns is welcomed news for athletes longing to test themselves outside of city limits.
“With having an OFSAA, it definitely feels a lot more normal,” noted Lo-Ellen Park senior Maike Purdon. “A lot of it is still different – in a normal season, we would have been going away to tournaments every weekend. At the beginning of the year, we were practicing with masks on.”
Very gradually, it became clear that basketball is basketball – and in the Sudbury girls high-school ranks that would likely mean the Knights and Lancers would be going toe to toe on more than one occasion, certainly a positive for both teams preparing for OFSAA opponents.
“I think our defense was a big thing against Lasalle,” said Purdon. “We did a good job of keeping the better players on Lasalle contained. It just seemed that we got better, as a team, over the course of the four times that we played them.”
Part of that improvement came courtesy of a youngish roster that incorporated athletes from every different grade level at LOE. “The younger girls are super energetic,” said Purdon. “They’re a lot of fun. They can be a little goofy, sometimes, but it makes it so much fun to practice and play with them.”
One of only four grade 12 students on the CND team that downed the Manitoulin Mustangs 30-27 to secure their NOSSA banner, Gabrielle Tiangco knows exactly where Purdon is coming from.
“The energy for high-school basketball is a lot different, just because for a lot of these girls, basketball isn’t their main sport,” said the long-time member of the Sudbury Jam. “They are here to have fun and compete, doing their best. Basketball isn’t a be all and end all.”
Throw in a whole slew of question marks to begin the fall season and you are left with an environment that is ripe for enjoying whatever opportunities you might have. “All season long, we really have been taking it one week at a time,” said Tiangco. “We didn’t really know how the season was going to play out.”
“The end goal was always to go to OFSAA, of course, but we really never knew if this was an option. The bus ride home from NOSSA was so energetic.”
The pandemic has been frustrating, to be sure, yet there remain some silver linings. “Because of Covid, I just appreciate high-school basketball so much more,” said Tiangco. “I get to meet a lot of new girls and I have more of a leadership position in high-school basketball.”
Rounding out the Alouettes roster are Alyzée Bisaillon, Michelle Scratch, Cassandra Lapensée, Angelica Lapensée, Emilie Miller, Emma Corcoran, Noelle Tiangco, Ella Minor, Laryssa Mayer, Kennedy Newell, Bianca Vigna, Avery Tullio and Sofia Bulic.
A four year veteran of the Lasalle Lancers’ grouping, Lainey Allen is hoping to take her game to the next level, looking at making her way to Ottawa with either the Gee Gees or the Carleton Ravens. The upcoming club season is sure to provide a lot more opportunity to develop and be showcased, which is part of the reason why she wants to make the most of this last trip with her high-school team.
“With our Jam team, it’s more competitive players, girls who have been looking to play competitive since their younger years,” said Allen. “For school, it’s not as intense. All of our club players stepped up this season, really helping our players who haven’t played club or who don’t have as much experience.”
“It’s good for us to learn how to teach our players, how to help them along the way.”
As for a game-plan in St Catharines, where the sixth-seeded Lancers open against the top ranked St Francis Xavier Tigers from Mississauga, Allen and company are keeping things simple. “We need to run and hustle,” she said.
“Our skill level might not be as good as some of the teams that we’re going to see, so we need to out-run everyone.”
Joining Allen on the combo basketball-track team are Charlotte Eberlein, Hunter Brear, Peyton Brear, Madison Norman, Jasmine Savignac, Vanessa Gauthier, Taylor Prudhomme, Sydney Gauthier, Theresa Gauthier, Emma Dawson and Katie Lloyd.