Alexia Lemay-Evans spanned much of Canada, from the Maritimes to the Prairies, before ultimately deciding on Wolfville (Nova Scotia) as the post-secondary destination of choice to further pursue her volleyball career.
For the 17 year-old soon-to-be graduate of Collège Notre-Dame, that may have been the best part of the recruiting process.
“Regardless of which school I chose, going on the visits and getting to see different parts of the country, different atmospheres and different environments was the favourite part for me,” said the long-time member of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club, also a mainstay with the provincial team in recent years.
“Acadia (University) and the University of Saskatchewan, they are such different schools. They are so hard to compare, even though they were equally amazing and enjoyable. The stressful part came after those visits, when I realized that it was crunch time, that I had a month and a half to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.”
Signing on with the Acadia Axewomen in the end, Lemay-Evans looked in-house for some helpful advice when it came to a complex decision-making process. “My mom is an engineer and she does these spreadsheets when she has to make difficult decisions,” said the eldest of two very talented athletes in the family.
“You attribute points to different characteristics that represent what you’re looking for and one decision will come out on top.”
When the dust settled, if she was going to be a long way from home, regardless of her choice, then best to go with a setting that most resembles the one that she is leaving behind. “By far, for me, the most important aspects were the community and the team dynamics,” Lemay-Evans outlined.
“One of the things that I love most about Acadia is that the town is very small and the campus is small. The students are half the population of Wolfville. It’s a really tight-knit community and a tight-knit team. That was important to me.”
While, to some extent, she is anxious to get out on her own, she is not the least bit oblivious to the challenges, the brave new world that lies ahead. “I know that I will be calling my mom often,” laughed Lemay-Evans. “There are a lot of things that I am going to need help with.”
The easiest transition may well be when she is out on the court with her teammates, although even then, the reality is that U Sports' competition is still a notch above anything that the toughest of her club matches and even provincial team play would have subjected her to.
“The biggest difference is the speed of the game,” she said. “The sets are faster, the speed the ball is coming at you is faster. Even with Team Ontario, it’s not that comparable. It’s important as a middle to close all of your blocks and not leave too many seams.”
“When the (opposing) setter doesn’t give you many cues to where she is setting, when the ball is set at a way faster tempo than you are used to, it’s way more demanding.”
That said, in joining a program that is intent on halting the string of dominance that juggernaut Dalhousie Tigers have compiled – eight straight AUS titles dating back to 2012-2013 – Lemay-Evans knows that time is on her side.
“Coaches know that they will have a chance to develop you, so they don’t expect you to be at the same level as the girls you are practicing with,” said the Kinesiology major who enjoyed the opportunity to step on the court with existing team members at virtually every visit that she made.
“Your coachability, your adaptability, your potential, your technique, and the intangibles – they are all important. “That’s what they are looking for.”
And while northern Ontario might not offer quite the same access to the depth of competition as the GTA and other pockets of the province, there are definitely some benefits to coming through the system with a club like the Chill. “The one thing that I will say about having a smaller club is that coaches here really want everyone to succeed, they have a close relationship with everyone.”
“Everyone kind of knows each other in the volleyball community in Sudbury. That was crucial for me because I got to use a lot of the resources and make connections.”
From an early introduction to Acadia assistant coach and pending Lakehead head coach Vanessa Chorkawy, to Sheldon Root in her more recent Chill years, from spending summers perfecting technique with Kurtis Van Wallegham and on to the high-school oversight at CND of Denny Chicoine and her father, Jason, Lemay-Evans has tapped into an abundance of enthusiastic support.
“As much as we don’t have everything that the big centres have, we still have very dedicated and knowledgeable coaches who can help you reach your goals – if you put in the work.”
These are all settings that have allowed the 6’0” middle to spread her wings, as a player and a person.
“I think the practices, for me, have really helped my leadership, just having the ability to really try and push our team,” said Lemay-Evans. “The team that we started with at 14U and the team we have now at 18U are not even comparable. I think this comes down to obviously the coaching staff – but also our own team and how we are able to push each other.”
Having experience both at middle (with her club team) and on the left side (with the Alouettes), Lemay-Evans offers some versatility at Acadia, even if the initial option lies with her current level of comfort. “With all of the schools that I talked to, we are looking at my first few years mainly as a middle, mostly because I promoted myself as a middle, all of my video was as middle.”
“But there’s always the possibility for change. Technically, I am primarily a middle - but you never know.”
All of which doesn’t make the process of earning court time in actual regular season games any easier. “The roster has quite a few middles, I will say that,” noted Lemay-Evans. “And with Covid, the years of eligibility are a little messed up. I kind of vowed to myself to go in with no set expectations and kind of ride the wave on that one.”
“I’m going in with the mindset that I will work hard and try and better myself as a player, and if that gets me on the court, great. If not, then I still know that I am better than when I got there in September.”
And whether that was in Ontario, Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia, or anywhere in between, that sounds like a pretty good game plan for Alexia Lemay-Evans./html>