Only once in the past decade have the Collège Boréal Vipères men’s volleyball team hit the two-win mark, or better, during regular season play in the OCAA. One has to go back another few years still to find a season where the team may a serious run at a playoff berth.
Third year veterans Mitch Ayotte and Stephen Lefaive believe, quite sincerely, that this could all change in 2019-2020.
“The coach thinks we can win every game, which is the right mindset,” noted Ayotte, with a smile. “Realistically, as a player, I know we’re not going to win every game. That being said, I see the talent on our team, I know what we’re capable of, and I know we have a shot at making the playoffs this year.”
If that is to happen, Ayotte and Lefaive, along with returning setter Kevin Longpré, will all need to be playing to the absolute max of their abilities, with some new faces becoming acclimated a lot quicker than has been the case for most Boréal freshmen to the rigours of collegiate play.
Head coach Jamie Erven is not about to count these guys out.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by our powers (Ayotte/Lefaive), because we did move some guys around,” said the fixture with the Vipères, who is doing double-duty this year, handling both the men’s and women’s teams at the Collège.
“Our left sides are strong, they’re doing really well. Kevin (Longpré) has come in with a great attitude, a great work ethic. He’s really energetic about doing things right, and he’s been setting really well for us. He’s getting better at his decision making, who to set when. Some of the more against the grain stuff, learning to read the opponents’ blocks and finding mismatches, he’s moving into that area a lot more this year.”
“Even if we’re not passing well, Kevin has those good reliable hands that we feel can put up a pretty good set that our guys can swing on.”
Good passing, pretty much the bane of the existence of every single volleyball coach on the face of the earth. Coach Erven and the Vipères are not different.
“Passing is one of those things that you can never do too well,” said Erven. “We would like to see a little more consistency on our passing, and more strength from some of our secondary attackers - really, just more confidence in their game. They have the strength, they just need the confidence to know that they can do it and do it well.”
“It’s there,” stressed Erven. “They just need to get comfortable. We’re pretty confident it will come.”
Getting comfortable has been at the forefront of life on the court for both Ayotte and Lefaive. A graduate of Ecole secondaire catholique l’Horizon who spent two years at Laurentian University before moving over to the Electrical program at Boréal three years ago, Ayotte is transitioning from his role as right-side hitter to the left-side, this fall.
“This year, we lost our powers from last year and they tried me out for one game, and it’s working out pretty good,” said Ayotte. “Hitting wise, it wasn’t so bad. It’s not the approach for hitting that’s tough, it’s mostly the passing. As a right side, you generally don’t pass. You’re tucked in the back and don’t have to worry about that.”
“Now that I have to pass, I don’t want to let the team down, I have to step up for them.”
Standing 6’4” and now 22 years of age, Ayotte suggested that he’s clearly started to grasp some of the unique challenges of making a clean first pass, off serve receive, when facing the caliber of volleyball talent that abounds, most notably, in the OCAA West.
“Spinners are pretty easy to receive,” he said. “If you just put your arms out, you can pop it up 20 to 30 feet high, right to the setter. Floaters are tougher, where it’s zig-zagging in mid-air. You have to learn how to adjust the placement of your body, and I’m not good with that. That’s what I want to get good at. We’re going to get there.”
It’s that type of commitment to the team that can become infectious, one which is shared with his third year partner, as Lefaive slides over from middle to left side for his final year at Boréal. “I’ve just got to not hug the middle so much,” noted the 19 year old student in the Fish and Wildlife/Forestry program from Penetanguishene.
“You’re so used to keying on the middle, but really, my guy is the opposite right side swinger – and the setter. When you’re a middle, you don’t have a lot of time. You’re jumping and you’re looking, at the same time. You try and key on the setter, you watch his hands.”
“I’m a lot quicker to read now. If I can see his hands tilted a little bit, I know where he’s going (with the ball) and I can get ready, if he’s going to my side.”
Offensively, Lefaive must reconnect with his setter, as Longpré will no longer be looking to the graduate of Ecole Secondaire Le Caron for the traditional quick hit through the middle. “Your approach on left side is completely different, and everyone likes to be set differently,” said Lefaive.
“Mitch likes his sets a lot higher. He jumps a lot higher, so he likes his sets higher. I jump high, but not as high as Mitch, so I like them at a different height.” And though their roles are key, leaders of this new team, the seasoned vets know full well just how much help will be needed to achieve the team goal.
“This group is so young and willing, out here busting their butts off for us,” said Lefaive. “It reminds me of my first year.”
And with a little luck, it will remind fans of Boréal volleyball of just what it feels like to be involved in the thick of a playoff race during the second semester of the season.
The 2019-2020 edition of the Boréal Vipères men’s volleyball team includes Pierre Astier, Brett McIntosh, Cody Pilon, Frédéric Leblanc, Dylan Lacroix, Adam Fagan, Kevin Longpré, Mitch Ayotte, Jaden Chouinard, Stephen Lefaive, Gabriel Paquette, head coach Jamie Erven, assistants Jessica Filice and Adam Martelli, and athletic therapist Danièle Gervais.