The landscape of local sports might be changing once again, but for at least one more weekend, high-school volleyball (girls) and basketball (boys) tournament action was contested in much the same way that we had always envisioned.
True, there were no fans in the stands at either the Hoops and Spikes Senior Girls Volleyball Tournament or the Mitch Lalonde Memorial Basketball Tournament, but on the court, the action looked every bit as intense as it always has been.
The gymnasium of the Sudbury YMCA was the venue of choice as five teams gathered for the Hoops and Spikes Tournament organized by coach Kyleen Gray and her Lively Hawks. When the dust settled, it was the Horizon Aigles who had managed a sweep of the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes to capture tournament bragging rights.
While veterans Mackenzie Selk and Zoe St-Jean provide valuable experience, it is an influx of younger club talent in the form of Fannie Gauthier, Shae St-Onge, Manon Charbonneau and Hannah Kirwan that have head coach Patrick Gervais equally as excited.
“It’s such a strong group of kids that have so much experience, even with the four grade tens,” he said. “They bring a leadership that I have never seen in volleyball. They bring their knowledge and athleticism from the club, and they help other girls. The five that we’ve got are unbelievable (Selk is also a long-time club player).”
“Everything that they do, they do so well, and they are constantly helping the others.”
Kennedy Bellefeuille, Paige Cornthwaite, Breanna Lemaire and Annie Simon round out the Horizon roster. "We are a small team, and there's things we need to work on," Gervais added. "Defensively, I think that we can be one of the top teams."
"We're going to have to work on our offense throughout the season."
That mix of strengths and weaknesses might be the most compelling feature of the SDSSAA Division I girls volleyball loop this year, with no squad clearly rishing above the rest.
Without the services of provincial team talent Alexia Lemay-Evans, sidelined for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, CND was clearly a little undermanned – though the coach would have none of that. “To me, that’s not an excuse,” said Jason Evans, who returns OFSAA medallist Haven Fournier (2019) and Lemay-Evans, along with an influx of young Northern Chill talent.
“We have the skills and the ability on this team to beat anyone at any given time.”
In fact, the same holds true, he suggested, from the likes of the Confederation Chargers, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights, as well as Horizon, quite obviously. “There are a lot of club players in the high-school system right now – and a lot of ex club players,” Evans noted. “It’s made it a very competitive field.”
In fact the tournament final may have presented a bit of a matchup of differing strengths.
“This group is a very offensive group, whereas the CND team two years ago, they had very sound defense,” said Evans. “Horizon are a very sound defensive team; you can’t play soft volleyball against them. If you do, they will pick the ball up and put it right back at you."
"They might not shove it down your throat, but they are well coached and they know where to place the ball.”
The balance of the CND squad includes Cayleigh Brulé, Brianne Perreault, Emma Coutu, Zoe Asselin, Mia Lemay-Evans, Jamie-Lynn Wright, Michelle Scratch, Alyzée Bisaillon and Emma Vaillancourt.
Not part of this particular tournament draw may have been a blessing in disguise for coach Sheldon Root and his Lo-Ellen Park Knights. Bumps and bruises and much more than that have taken a toll on a team that, when healthy, is absolutely capable of going toe to toe with the best in the city.
With only setter and team captain Sophie Gaffney returning from the 2019-2020 Knights, Root is dealing with more transition than might normally be the case. "It's a very different look than in previous years as we typically have more experience," he said.
"Despite that, there is a lot of talent on this team."
Led by thunderous hitter Kameryn Van Wallegham and club veterans Rory Frantz, Allison Nordquist and Siobhan Noble-Poland, Root finds himself at the ghelm of a highly athletic unit that also sees Annika Best, Madison Huntingon, Madison Kelly, Molly Lafantaisie and Alison Symington donning the purple and black.
The Knights, perhaps more than any other team, are looking forward to Christmas holidays.
"We are very much looking forward to the break in hopes that some down time will allow us to heal," said Root. "The silver lining is that this has allowed other athletes to step up and perform, which we will take advantage of."
"Any of the top four can beat any of the top four," he continued. "It's going to come down to the health of the athletes, lack of isolations and executing game plans. No win is guaranteed."