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Lancers defend OFSAA title in a much different way
2023-11-30
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It is often times tougher to defend a championship than to win it in the first place.

Graduating at least half of their starting roster from the 2022 OFSAA gold medal winning squad, the Lasalle Lancers are not about to take issue with this statement.

In fact, the crew that repeated as provincial high-school champions this past weekend actually fell victim to a sweep at the hands of the Lockerby Vikings in the city final just a few weeks before play commenced at OFSAA.

“Last year, we dominated,” noted head coach Dale Beausoleil. “I think we only had one team score twenty on us the whole OFSAA tournament last year. We had a lot of weapons. This year, we did not have as many, so our ball handling skill had to be there, the game plan had to be followed, serving location had to be followed.”

“This year, it was very strategic.”

It certainly wasn’t just the coach who was keenly aware of the challenges standing in the way of back to back OSAA banners. “To be honest, at the start of the tournament, I did not expect to make it that far,” noted left-side attacker and key offensive hitter Cale Bast. “There were a couple of games that we probably should not have won but somehow came back and ended up pulling it out.”

For the record, the Lancers dropped four sets in total this year in Stratford after running off 17 straight set wins at OFSAA last fall. A pool game against Silverthorn Collegiate Institute from Toronto went right down to the wire (25-17, 22-25, 15-13), with Lasalle also in extremely tough in the quarter-finals against Regiopolis Notre-Dame from Kingston (26-24, 25-20, 23-25, 26-24) and in the finals against the Beatrice Desloges Bulldogs from Ottawa (17-25, 25-22, 25-22, 20-25, 15-12).

Not only were the NCSSAA champions the same opponent that the Lancers had beaten in the 2022 final, but Beatrice-Desloges also returned their entire starting roster from that team. “This year, we knew going in that it was going to be that much tougher because we didn’t have the weapons, offensively, that we had last year,” said Beausoleil.

“We had to make it up in different ways. The belief (that we could win) was still there, just in a different way.”

The loss of the likes of Noah Squires and Hayden Radey and Owen Pawluk left many an opponent to game-plan primarily around Bast, who suggested that merely created a different opportunity for his team. “If teams triple up (on me), that opens up our middles, so our middles can slide there and get a free easy hit,” suggested the 18 year old three-time OFSAA medal winner who plans to join coach Beausoleil and the Cambrian Golden Shield next fall.

“It opens up other plays.”

Few on the court would be more keenly aware of this than returning Lancer setter James Welsh.

“I think I had to pay a lot more attention to exactly how I was setting the ball this year,” said the grade 12 student. “I couldn’t just put the ball to the left side and know the ball was going to go down. I had to be thinking about who is hitting well this game and who am I going to feed.”

Helping his cause was the natural progession of his skill-set, one borne not only by the time spent with Beausoleil and the Lancers, but also year-round training as a member of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club. “The pace that I have on the ball now when I am setting is much better,” said Welsh.

“It’s not nearly as much of a rainbow as it was last year. There has to be more tempo behind the ball, not so much because our hitters couldn’t hit it if it’s not perfect, but just to allow them to hit it fast and force the blockers to move quickly to get there.”

Where the 2022-2023 Lancers enjoyed a physical advantage over virtually every opponent they faced, the matchups were much more even this year, with the NOSSA champs not above scoring in whichever manner they could.

“So many teams were so close; it’s like we were playing Lockerby every match – so game planning was huge,” said Beausoleil. “In the final, we tipped and scored 14 times on them. They were playing so deep on Cale, he could tip and score all day. He ended up playing a chess game with them – tip and then pound.”

And it wasn’t just at the net where a premium would be placed on precision.

“Our serves were a lot tougher last year; we could put in those big serves,” said Bast. “This year, we had to put it in the right placement.”

As is pretty much always the case, it’s roster-wide contributions that make for a championship team and this edition of the Lancers was no different. “Oak (middle Oak Runia) was on fire, blocking and killing balls,” noted Bast of the young man who earned the moniker “OFSAA Oak” for his ability to up his game at this key time of the year.

“When Oak gets to OFSAA, I think he wants to prove something - and Ashton (Ashton Eadie-Chartrand) with his passing and his positioning, and our libero (Cameron Potvin) diving like crazy and getting so many balls up.”

Truth be told, there was a much greater degree of uncertainty entering OFSAA this time around.

“We just did not know where we stood,” said Welsh, though the Lancers did earn the number one seeding entering play last Thursday. “It was so interesting.”

Rounding out the 2023 championship team roster are Mackenzie Alisappi, Will Mackey, Reid Zakamarko, Ethan Lalonde, assistant coach Mikaio Walia and team manager Brock Peters.

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