Once a sports powerhouse in the Sudbury high-school ranks, Sudbury Secondary School have challenged for but a handful of SDSSAA team banners in recent years, and fewer still that were specific to volleyball.
With a 25-12, 25-19, 25-21 victory over the Hanmer Sabres last weekend, the SSS North Stars garnered their first boys volleyball title of any kind since 2004, the last time the school claimed supremacy in the Division B play.
"This group has been amazing to work with, dedicated to developing their skills for the past three years in order to become volleyball players," noted head coach Tanis Van Wallegham. "Previously, the volleyball season was always a warm-up to basketball."
"That changed four years ago," suggested team captain and monster middle hitter Abdul Abiodun. "There was a group that came in and loved volleyball very much. That's when it all started."
The ingredients were all in place for success. To start: a passionate coach who understood the game and displayed the patience needed to forge forward on what could be a slow-moving progession, at times.
"We started out with a lot of losing but the boys never lost their interest in learning more about the game and getting better," said Van Wallegham. "It was a definite asset to have my brother (Kurtis) bring his experience and knowledge into their training."
"I had a lot of fun watching their confidence grow on the court with every point, set and match we played this season."
And what a season it was.
The North Stars ran the table (5-0) in regular season play, dropping just two sets along the way and taking down the Lively Hawks 25-19, 25-15, 19-25, 25-20 in semi-final action.
Come the final, Abiodun was an absolute beast according to his coach, dominating thanks to a very srong relationship that he enjoys with grade 11 setter Drake Villeneuve.
"From last year to this year, I think we've really grown together," said the 18 year-old native of Nigeria who moved to Sudbury some five years ago. "Me and him play doubles badminton together too, so we really learned a lot about each other."
Throw in a team that is as supportive as they come and you have the makings of a setting where both a love of the sport, along with the skill-set to play at a more advanced level, are able to thrive.
"We don't get on each other any time we make a mistake," noted Abiodun. "We don't shout at each other or yell at each other."
Rounding out the championship winning roster are Chris Eaton-Boehm, Bryan Perez Ocampo, Matthew Haan, Van Provost, Amon Ranger, Daniel Barber, Brogan Hurley and Thomas Escanilla.
The Junior Division B final would see the St Benedict Bears break a more than decade-long drought, earning the banner for the first time since 2011 thanks to a 25-21, 28-26, 25-22 sweep of the Bishop Carter Gators.
Taking to the floor for head coach Chris Holden this year were Lucas Gutscher, Mauro Cusinato, Sullivan Smith, Chami Nyabeze, Bronson Naponse, Bradley Cothill, Dylan Nelson, Clarke McNeil, Mateo Bedoya, Desmond Whitmore, Quinn Thiessen, Ajani Rubic-Yinusa, Keegan Adair, Connor Nicholson and Anthony Tripodi.