The Horizon Aigles senior boys volleyball team are making their first appearance at OFSAA in more than a decade, but assistant coach Patrick Gervais insists his team is well prepared.
In fact, this was the plan, right from the beginning of the year.
Attending some top end tournaments at McMaster University and in Ottawa, and benefitting from the strong level of volleyball they encountered playing both the Lasalle Lancers and Lo-Ellen Park Knights on multiple occasions, Gervais and the Aigles should not be overwhelmed as they battle the best in the province at the 2019 OFSAA Boys "A" Volleyball Championship in Paincourt this week.
"The biggest thing was just living through pressure situations," explained Gervais. "We played some big schools, AAA schools, teams that had been there time and time again. We needed to see what it took to be there, and we competed against these teams."
On the court, facing elite competition, veteran left side Greg Mrochek noticed several other benefits. "We got exposed to different styles of play, playing teams, for example, with a very good defence who let you make the mistakes," he said.
"And a lot of these guys are hitting a lot harder, so it's a matter of being ready, being on your toes, being able to move to where you've got to be. You've always got to be there. If you're not there on the block, you know that there's a guy behind you whose going to eat the ball."
Lining up opposite a whole assortment of different teams and skill-sets, the Aigles were forced to adapt. "On defence, we learned to play a couple of different systems," said grade 10 first year senior Noah Perreault.
"We can play rotational and perimeter this year, which was different for some guys, but it did help a lot. One system tends to defend better against tips, so if a team is tipping a lot, you can switch to that."
"There's another system for when you're facing one attacker who can hit really hard line," added Perreault. "It's a bit of a variation to defend against the other team's offense."
And from a coaching perspective, Gervais insisted that diversity is critical on both sides of the net. "Last year, we had almost nothing out of the middle, so that was one of the big things for us," he said.
"It's really about having a variety, not just having your left sides, which we still struggle with a bit. We need to have everyone firing, to have not only one option." If this sounds fairly advanced, consider for a moment that much of the team have progressed with head coach Guy Perreault, with help at various times from both Jean-Gilles Lemieux and Patrick Gervais, dating back to a time when they were still in grade seven or eight.
"When they arrived here in grade nine, we were no longer showing them the basics, we could go right into defensive systems and varied offenses," said Gervais. Realistically, he and his team are now targetting a top eight finish in the field of twenty at provincials.
"We want to get out there and prove who we are, that we are on the map," said Mrochek. "It's awesome to be there, but you also want to make a name for yourself."
"This team has gelled really good together, we're all leaders," added Perreault. "I know that my boys are going to come out to play when they have to."
The 2019 NOSSA "A" championship roster for Horizon includes Alex Giguere, Cedrick Jutras, Ben Lacroix, Alex Leger, Mathieu Lemieux, Miguel Levac, Greg Mrochek, Callum Patterson, Gavin Roy, Noah Perreault, Justin Tremblay and Jordan Trottier.
With day one in the books, the Aigles still have a shot at the championship round of the playoffs. The locals opened with a hard fought 21-25, 25-21, 16-14 win over the Acton District High School Bearcats, but lost 20-25, 19-25 to the Brampton Christian School Bobcats later in the day.
The team is back in action tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., facing the St Michael Choir School Spartans, back on the court just a few hours later to close out pool play against Durham Christian High School.