With Bugarski Cup play wrapping up and Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA) provincials set to kickoff on (Thursday) April 14th, running right through until May 1st, the Northern Chill Volleyball Club contingent are sure to be right in the middle of the mix this month.
It only stands to reason then that as we catch up with a couple of squads preparing for the year-end pinnacle to their season, that the position of “middle” should be front and centre in the conversation.
Few teams within the Chill stable of entries can boast as imposing a presence smack dab in the middle of the court as the Northern Chill 16U Subzero girls squad, with six footers Mia Lemay-Evans and Alyssa Nicholls anchoring a very impressive collection of talent, one that enters the all-Ontario playdowns ranked #7 in the entire province.
“I think we’re doing pretty good – but we’re not at the best that we can be,” said Lemay-Evans, a 15 year-old grade 10 student at Collège Notre Dame and younger sister to recent Acadia Axewomen commit Alexia Lemay-Evans. “I think at provincials, we’ll peak; that’s when we’ll do our best.”
“It will be a matter of putting everything together, focusing on the big picture more than just the little things.”
It was March of 2020, just before the outbreak of the global pandemic when the core of this group captured a bronze medal at the Bugarski Cup – Premier Division U14 tournament, a first in the history of the Northern Chill Club. Safe to suggest that there have been eyes on this group for at least a few years now.
“I think it’s nice to have that attention, but I don’t think our team gets too cocky,” said Nicholls, also 15 years old, also in grade 10, but continuing her secondary schooling at E.S. Macdonald-Cartier, the same institution where she once served as a setter (in middle school) before making her move to the middle.
“We don’t let it get to our heads.”
Tackling the challenge of guiding this team for the very first time, former GTA athlete turned northern Ontario coach Tess Peterson suggested this is a group of young women who are very much in their element in this setting.
“The pressure is always on this crew; they are high performance athletes,” she said. “They are expected to do well. I think our goal is always to medal. But I think they find fun in competitiveness.”
Even coming out of covid, the roster could not fight their inner intensity. “I think at the beginning of the year, it was good just to be back,” said Lemay-Evans. “Once we started playing tournaments, then I think it got more intense, more about wanting to win than just being happy to be back.”
There is little doubt that when it comes to the Subzero squad, the Chill girls do tend to feed off one another. “I think of when we do a drill that represent game play, when we do short court, that’s really fun,” said Nicholls. “The whole team is laughing and having fun, but we’re still working hard to win.”
Rounding out the 16U girls roster are Manon Charbonneau, Shae St Onge, Abby Walker, Kate Rolston, Marley Tremblay, Fanny Gauthier, Hanna Kirwan and Emilia Rietze.
For Josée Beauchamp, a first year Sports Psychology student at Laurentian University and member of the 18U Black Ice roster, her final year of club ball represents a return to a middle position that she played in her early days with the Chill, making the move to left-side but sliding back towards the centre this past fall.
“Because I have been practicing more now as a middle, I am able to pick up on little things,” noted the pleasant 18 year-old at a recent team practice in Azilda. “I know more what they’re going to do because I do it too. I can kind of read when they start cheating to a certain place – and when their setters do their back sets, they do bend their backs a little bit more, so I can start cheating on the block.”
A senior at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School and soon-to-be freshman in the Neuro Science program at Carleton University, Rory Frantz noted that there were positive outcomes of coming out of the other side of the pandemic, even if this age bracket does it just barely in time to salvage the very last provincial experience of their youth volleyball careers.
“It really tested all of our hard work and dedication,” said Frantz. “Going from playing with masks on to not wearing masks, not having people watching to finally having all of that back, we were kind of drained, a little bit. It was just a matter of working that energy back up, and now we’re seeing the payoff.”
The senior Knights were eliminated in the SDSSAA semi-finals, with Confederation stopping Horizon in the city final as a number of the U18 girls springboard from high-school action through to the tail-end of the OVA schedule. “I had a really good semi-final game, so that’s got me excited for the (upcoming) tournaments,” said Frantz.
“And because there are only the two tournaments left, there is a sense of wanting to put it all out there; this is our last shot.”
The Northern Chill 18U Black Ice lineup also includes Alexa Gordon, Alexia Lemay-Evans, Erin Wiseman, Haven Fournier, Kaija Grubber, Kameryn Vanwallegham, Mackenzie Selk, Sophie Gaffney, Danika Chenier, Hannah Crane, head coach Sheldon Root and assistant coach Mike Margarit.
Finally, the Northern Chill U18 Norsemen boys will head to provincials later this month, fresh off a fifth place finish at the Bugarski Cup playdowns this past weekend, understanding full well that there is very little to choose between the 28 teams that comprise the Division II grouping in which they will compete in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Ranked 24th in the province, the Chill lads finished first in pool play on Saturday, defeating both the Ancaster Lions (24-26, 25-23, 15-13) and the Durham Attack Spitfires (25-9, 25-18). The locals stumbled in the quarter-finals, falling to the Bluewater Ballistix 21-25, 25-22, 9-15. The Ballistix find themselves sitting 16th overall, as the Division II bracket covers teams from nine to 36.
The Norsemen swept past Brant Tornadoes 25-16, 25-12 to finish right in the middle of the pack of the nine team event, with the eldest of the Chill boys’ entries featuring a lineup of Aidan Carlson, Cameron Showers, Harrison Wilson, Jude Caruso, Keegan Ryan, Kyle Perreault, Matthew Hunt, Miguel Leclair, Mikaio Walia, Noah Squires, Tatum Ostroski, head coach Nathan Squires and assistant Guy Perreault.