When it comes to the landscape of Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association (OCAA) women’s volleyball, the bracketed home of the Cambrian Golden Shield might best be described as the wild, wild, west.
That might be true, but the West Division of the OCAA is also not becoming any easier to navigate any time soon.
“I think we’re a little bit stronger than we were last year,” noted Cambrian head coach Dale Beausoleil at practice Wednesday night. “The West, however, is incredible. Every team that we’ve seen is a little bit better as well. We are in for a dog-fight every time that we step on the court with one of those teams.”
Not that the well-acclaimed volleyball mentor would want it any other way.
“I love being in the West, I love playing the best teams,” said Beausoleil. “It makes us better, all the time. We are going to get better, because we are in this division, and the whole end goal is to the best that you can be.”
While his team remains relatively young, there is the experience of hosting the 2018 OCAA Championships to draw upon, for approximately half of the Cambrian roster. “I think that we’ve already built off what we did at provincials,” said Beausoleil. “Our defence is a lot better than it was last year.”
“We’re faster, we’re able to read a little bit better, we have better ball control.” Yet for a man who has remained the face of this team for more than a quarter century now, patience is, as always, a very helpful virtue. “You can see nerves still, we’re still pretty young,” suggested Beausoleil.
“We’re tentative at times and not really hitting, not ready to go hard on the attack. That’s just going to take time.” Of course, if you’re going to be dealing with some turnover in the roster, as the local collegiate team inevitably always does, best if it included at least some post-secondary experience to the incoming mix.
Lasalle Secondary School graduate Kendra Muffo has been welcomed back to the fold, after spending the 2018-2019 season attending Nipissing University in North Bay. To her credit, she kept her athletic options open, even while focusing on her ultimate academic goals. “I didn’t play with their team, but practiced with them all the time,” said Muffo.
“And then throughout the summer, I was working out with Dale and on my own with a personal trainer. I had my own workout schedule that I was on five days a week, plus I played co-ed soccer all summer.”
More committed to basketball than volleyball throughout her youth and time as a Lancer, Muffo was thrust into the role of setter during her first stop at Cambrian, gradually learning the position from 2016-2018. With Isabelle Rivest now solidly entrenched in that capacity, the impressive athleticism of the 21 year old returnee is being geared to the position of libero.
“It was really hard coming into college volleyball and never setting before, and having that much pressure,” said Muffo. “Since I am used to that pressure now, playing another position is not affecting me as much as it did. I find that I am more confident now.”
“Being a setter, you have to know where the block is going and where the other setter is setting the ball, when you are up front,” added the Pre-Health major. “That’s helped me at libero. And I can honestly say that basketball has helped me a lot. The way that you play defence in basketball, tracking the ball and trying to steal it off the first pass, that’s helped me have that first step, that first little bit of quickness on defence.”
Muffo is not the only newcomer with experience. Also 21 years of age and born and raised in Elliot Lake, Katie Albert comes to the Golden Shield after playing with the Canadore Panthers, for two years, and then taking last season off. Volleyball, however, is not quite like riding a bike.
“I still think I have a little ways to go,” she said. “The year off really took a toll. I hadn’t played in a full year, so it takes time. My muscle memory is good, but my consistency is lacking, a little bit, and just getting in shape.”
While there are several reasons that Albert was thrilled to enter the Medical Radiation Technology program at Cambrian, enjoying the opportunity to be groomed under Beausoleil was at or near the top of that list.
“Dale is amazing, my favourite coach of all time,” she said. “He does everything for us. He is so invested and loves the game so much, that he wants us to feel the same way. It’s almost as if we are letting him down if we are not giving 100% or more. Because he does so much for us, we want to do just as much for him.”
All of that said, his technical knowledge of the sport is easily the equal of his top-notch interpersonal skills. “When I’m hitting, I am really bad at dropping my shoulder and having my hand down low, so he started to remind me to keep my thumb up high,” said Albert. “Otherwise, I drop my shoulder and swing from the elbow, whereas I am getting the full extension if I keep my thumb up.”
“He’s always giving me tips that really help my game.”
And for his part, Beausoleil is thankful to be working with a squad that is more than willing to consume his knowledge of volleyball. “They work really hard and they’re not scared to work hard, they’re not scared to play defence, they’re not scared to hit the floor,” he said.
“I like that. I like that a lot.”
The Cambrian Golden Shield 2019-2020 roster that will tackle the West Division of the women’s volleyball loop of the OCAA features Erica Scott-Thomas, Kendra Muffo, Jade Gauthier, Isabelle Rivest, Sarah Ramage, Alison LaBrash, Lyric Peltier, Maggie Little, Jordan Phillips, Teagan Langis, Katie Albert and Shae Laronde.