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Cambrian volleyball returns with an eye on the podium
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On (Friday) February 11th, the Cambrian Golden Shield women’s volleyball team stepped out on to the court in Hamilton, facing the Redeemer Royals, ever so thankful for the fact that they were battling it out in OCAA competition for the first time in almost exactly two years.

Two days later, it was clear that “just happy to be there” simply wasn’t going to cut it for the 2022 edition of the squad.

Beaten 25-19 in the very first set of their return to action, the Shield righted the ship, upending the Royals in five sets: 19-25, 25-22, 15-25, 25-16, 15-10. The next afternoon, Cambrian swept aside the Niagara Knights in three sets (25-17, 25-20, 25-15), besting an opponent that they had not vanquished in something like seven or eight years – and doing it on the road, no less.

It’s now a month later and the Golden Shield will ride their 7-2 regular season record, a mark that allowed them to secure third place in the ultra tough OCAA West Division (behind only Humber and Mohawk) into a home playoff game this coming Thursday evening.

Ironically, come March 10th at 7:00 p.m. at the New Sudbury campus, it will once again be the Redeemer Royals who are looking to thwart a very competitive Cambrian crew, one which fully believes that they are among the contenders for provincial glory.

“We realized in that first game that we could battle, that we were in this,” said heart and soul veteran setter Isabelle Rivest. “We kept that intensity going and that helped a lot. We kept winning and it was such a good feeling.”

While both Rivest and Katie Albert were part of the Cambrian roster, pre-Covid, the balance of the lineup has been rounded out with young women who have made their way to the school in either the fall of 2020 or 2021, displaying a great deal of “sticktuiveness” in preparing for a season they were not sure would come.

“I think what really helped us is that we never stopped,” said Rivest. “We were trying to get in the gym as much as we could, always trying to get touches. Some girls were working out at home, doing their own thing. I think that helped a lot, because not getting touches is rough.”

Adding a little extra excitement into the mix for those who had been around was a healthy influx of talented newcomers, including local starting freshmen Lauren Jenneault and Brielle Chicoine. “I will be completely honest, I was so nervous,” said the latter, a graduate of Collège Notre-Dame, with both girls fixtures with the Northern Chill club system for many a year.

“My first game against Redeemer, I was shaking on the court,” added Chicoine. “Thank God I had Izzy (Rivest) and Katie and Jordan (Phillips) who have been here and done that. They had my back and it took a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”

As might be expected in a season that has gone so well, team chemistry was often identified as a key to success. “Team building right away was a big thing,” said Rivest, a perennial OCAA all-star who comes to Cambrian from her hometown of Sturgeon Falls. “If we don’t get along, we won’t get along on the court.”

“We have a really good group of girls. We get along really well and it shows on the court. It’s just a fun environment.”

“We vibe off each other on the court,” Chicoine chimed in. “We’re all pushing each other to be better. There’s such good energy.”

And there is little question as to where much of that energy originates.

“Izzy is the heart of the team,” said Chicoine. “She won’t let us get down on ourselves. She will do anything to make sure that I can shine, making sure the set is perfect - even though she is our shining star.”

In fact, despite her well-documented skills as a setter, Rivest is as driven as ever to strive for perfection. “I am using my hands a lot more now, trying to get my feet there first and using my hands for everything. I used to use my forearms a lot, but now I am really concentrating on using my hands setting the ball from any area of the court.”

No surprise then that the 22 year-old third year Nursing student should serve as something of a role model for newcomers looking to grasp the development that needs to occur in order to progress at the post-secondary level.

“I’m more comfortable on the offensive side – it’s always been the stronger part of my game because I am a taller player,” suggested Chicoine. “But it has been more difficult this year, facing bigger blocks with more experienced players against me. I’m still working on it, to be better – but I really have to work on my defensive game, if I am being completely honest.”

As for the upcoming post-season matchup with the Royals, the devil is in the details as the Golden Shield hope that their attention to minutia pays dividends come Thursday. “We’re an undersized team so we really have to work on the little things, things like serve receive,” said Rivest.

“If we have our serve receive down pat, the rest is good. We have a tough defense as well, and our hard work really pays off on the court.”

And to some extent, that payoff lies in simply being back on the court.

“We tried to keep up hope that we were going to have a season,” said Chicoine. “When it finally happened, you should have seen the text messages. We were beyond joyful – so excited.”

Rounding out the 2021-2022 Cambrian roster are Sarah Ramage, Ila Leonard, Samantha Gaffney, Kiera Lebreton, Genevieve Gauthier, Shaelyn Laronde, Kaylynn Payette, head coach Dale Beausoleil and assistant coaches Justin Lamontagne and Alison Labrash.

Fans are welcomed to attend the game Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. by presenting their proof of vaccination QR code. Masks must be worn at all times – no food or drinks are allowed at the game, with entrance to the gymnasium via the main parking lot doors (behind the Student Life Centre).

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club