Volleyball is often at the forefront come time for the Cambrian Golden Shield Year-End Varsity Athletic Banquet annually.
But with the soccer seasons skewered due to health restrictions imposed regionally in the fall of 2021, the court sport dominated the festivities last week even more than usual.
Along with sweeping both sides of the Athlete of the Year accolades - Isabelle Rivest as Female AOY and Stephen Brown for the men - coach Dale Beausoleil was duly recognized for his truly unique accomplishment of being named as OCAA Coach of the Year on both the men's and women's circuits.
"Dale is just so knowledgeable, so just being able to learn from him is such a great opportunity," noted Rivest, the outstanding veteran setter who tackled the notable challenge of setting out of the middle this year, thanks in part to the guidance of Beausoleil, dealing with an absence of true middles on the women's team.
"Usually I only have one person to block," explained Rivest. "But now I have to move to both sides, so to be able to land, turn around and then set the ball - it's more of a challenge."
With no games slated until after Christmas and then January nixed thanks to the emergence of the Omicron variant, it's no surprise that the 2021-2022 season was defined as something of a blur.
"It went by very fast, I would say," said Rivest, a native of Sturgeon Falls who also garnered team MVP honours. "We had just barely started and all of a sudden, we were done. It was short and sweet. I wish we could have kept going, because we were doing so good."
Returning to the sport that he loves after stepping away for a few years, Stephen Brown must surely share in that last sentiment, though the men's volleyball MVP and Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School graduate was simply far more appreciative than anything else after last week's gala.
"I am truly grateful of being able to come back and play again, being more mature and more knowledgeable about the game," said the 28 year-old Industrial Mechanical Millwright Technician major who has spent the past few seasons coaching at the side of the man who guided the squad this year.
"I've always wanted to play for Dale but hadn't had the chance," said Brown. "I was just so thankful it finally happened."
Making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, Brown and his teammates dropped their first round battle to the Sheridan Bruins, a loss which did not detract in the least from all of the positives around the northern crew this winter.
"I was really happy with how we left our final game," said Brown. "Even though we didn't win in the quarters, everyone left their all on the court. It was really nice to see everyone contributing. Building for next year was very important; Dale is trying to build for the future."
Finalists for the top awards of the evening were Cassidy Burton (women's soccer) and Cameron Duff (badminton), with the full listing of the hardware recipients below:Team Awards
MVP - Cameron Duff
Most Improved - Hardik Kuber
Rookie of the Year - Cierra St Germain
MVP - Cassidy Burton
Rookies of the Year - Reanna Beaudoin / Mackenzie Watkins
Coach's Award - Hay-Lee Lavigne
MVP - Samson Ebikeme
Rookie of the Year - Quinton Thompson
Coach's Award - Luca Geada
MVP - Isabelle Rivest
Most Improved - Katie Albert / Shaelyn Larond
Rookie of the Year - Brielle Chicoine
MVP - Stephen Brown
Most Improved - Jack Daley
Rookie of the Year - Jason Diotte
Peter Guy Memorial Bursary
Jack Daley - Men's Volleyball
Vern Down Memorial Bursary
Cameron Duff (badminton) and Aisha Warren (women's soccer)
Dynamic Therapy Perseverance Award
Katie Albert - Women's Volleyball
The Golden Shield family also took time to acknowledge the contributions of the many coaches who provide such valuable leadership to these young post-secondary student-athletes:
Women's Soccer - Evan Phillips, Aaron Dent, Nicholas Walker, Kevin Chalupka, Shawn Wilcox, Dana Isaia
Men's Soccer - Jason Garforth
Cross Country - Jeffrey Paul
Badminton - Jim Duff, Troy Brushett, Amber Flannigan
Men's/Women's Volleyball - Dale Beausoleil, Justin Lamontagne, Stephen Beausoleil, Jonathan Hoadley, Kailey Bastien, Francisco Murphy