The Northern Chill 16U Subzero girls apparently are at their best when they are left with little to no wiggle room.
That’s not necessarily a bad quality for a competitive volleyball team to have. In fact, it’s just one of the many factors that propelled the local girls into uncharted territory a little over a week ago.
The Subzero crew earned a silver medal at the OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) Provincial Championships while competing in the Division I Tier I bracket, a feat never accomplished by a Chill team since the inception of the club more than 15 years ago.
In fact, the local rep grouping have rarely seen their entries crack the top five in Ontario when pitted against the best of the best. That said, this was no easy voyage for the 16U girls, with a bullet or two dodged along the way.
Not only did the Sudbury squad go the full three sets in each and every one of their last four outings leading into the gold medal matchup opposite the Halton Hurricanes Category 6, but the team opened with a 1-2 record on opening day in spite of the fact that sitting at #7 in the province, they ranked ahead of both the Smash Raiders Velocity from Hamilton (#15) and the Pakmen Gold (Mississauga/Brampton/Oakville - #10).
It was time to re-group, though club veterans Fannie Gauthier and Kate Rolston both contended that this was not a case of looking past any opponents. “I wouldn’t say that over-confident is a word I would use,” noted Rolston, team setter and a junior at Lockerby Composite. “We just had a bad day.”
“Day one was a bit rough,” Gauthier agreed. “We weren’t playing out best, how we normally do. But we pulled ourselves together. We knew what we had to do to perform well on day two.”
Re-ranked to #15 following one crack at pool play, the Chill powerhouse took advantage of lower seeded teams, sweeping past both the Scorpions Glow (Cambridge - #22) and Defensa Purple (Burlington - #23) before setting the stage for day three with a three set win over Titans Rogue (Toronto - #14 – 22-25, 25-22, 15-13).
The last match also kicked off a sequence where the Chill, who were now seeded third from the bottom of the 16 teams which advanced to Tier 1, would have to overcome a first set loss before besting their opponent at the wire.
“We really wanted to finish the matches in two sets,” said Rolston with a laugh. “It was a long and exhausting day – but I guess three sets are our specialty, apparently.”
Easier to laugh about it when you consider the mountain they climbed back on Tuesday, April 19th.
The Chill went the distance and then some in taking down # 3 Smash Raiders Velocity (21-25, 25-23, 18-16) in the round of 16, a team which clearly played its best volleyball of the year at the most opportune time. Drawing # 6 MVC Olympus from Hamilton in the quarter-finals, the Sudbury gals came from behind to win 16-25, 25-20, 15-11, doing the same to vanquish (#2) Titans Crius (Toronto) in the semis (21-25, 25-20, 15-13).
And though they dropped the final in straight sets, it’s clear from a score-line of 24-26, 20-25 that the Chill gave the Hurricanes all they could handle. “The fact that we were able to pull together on the second day and then do it again on the third day, going three sets with almost all of our games really helped us,” said Rolston.
“We just had to keep fighting and pushing, just to stay alive,” noted Gauthier, who joined Mia Lemay-Evans on the tournament all-star team. “We knew that we could still medal. As a team, we worked for every single point and proved that we are a strong team.”
A versatile athlete who can play both as a left-side attacker and a libero (defensive specialist), Gauthier prides herself on giving her coaches options, whether she is cycling her way through the back court or closer to the net.
“My defense is always stronger than my offense; I know that I always have a role in the back court,” noted one of the back-bones of a Horizon Aigles program that captured silver in the city finals. “I think I can read the play well, know where it’s going. I’m a shorter player, but I’m smart in where I place the ball on the other side of the court.”
In a sport where hitters often grab the spotlight, Rolston also shines in a position that is not all about the power. “Setting was always my strong suit,” said the young woman who combined with partner Abby Managhan to take home bronze medals in girls doubles action at the NOSSA badminton championships last weekend.
“I wasn’t as strong of a hitter and I really enjoyed it, so I thought why not. I focus a lot on my setting choices, being aware of where the blockers are, as well as setting our middles (Mia Lemay-Evans, Alyssa Nicholls). They tend to score us a lot of points.”
In fact, the Chill do present a bit of a different challenge from most of the mainstream U16 girls teams in the province. “A lot of teams like to set their outside hitters more, and we do have really good outside hitters, but our middles also really come through for us,” said Rolston. “They’re a really strong component of our team.”
Rounding out the roster of the second best team in the province (in U16 division) are Manon Charbonneau, Shae St Onge, Abby Walker, Marley Tremblay, Hanna Kirwan, Emilia Rietze, head coach Tess Peterson and assistant coach Alix Burkart.