When it comes to OCAA (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association) volleyball in Sudbury, there are truly just two dates that are circled on the calendar well before the rest. It seems to matter little the relative competitiveness of the teams from Cambrian College or College Boral - the mid-week double-headers that dot both halves of the winter schedule always promise to be entertaining.
Coming off a huge and quite surprising win Saturday over the nationally ranked Mohawk Mountaineers, the Golden Shield women were looking to continue their winning ways opposite the Viperes female contingent, with Boreal playing host and Cambrian minus head coach Dale Beausoleil, busy with his Lasalle Lancers boys team at OFSAA.
Despite the apparent mismatch, this contest remained close through until the halfway mark of the opening set, with the homeside able to sustain the pressure, from time to time, before eventually succumbing 25-16, 25-17, 25-20.
Though the Shield varied their attack with the likes of Alison LaBrash (8 kills), Jordan Phillips (5) and Katie Albert (4), it was the aggressive serving of setter Isabelle Rivest that created the most headaches for the Viperes.
"Izzy and her spin serves really hurt us," admitted Boreal setter Zoe Gagne. "We didn't adjust well. We knew where it was going and we knew to back up, but we still had a hard time picking up the ball."
"Isabelle served great and we got back on our heels and stopped being aggressive," agreed head coach Jamie Erven, doing double-duty at Boreal this year, mentoring both the men's and women's teams. "I think we got a little bit timid, a little bit reserved at points, for some reason."
It wasn't as though Boreal did not shows signs of breaking through. Mireille Paquette topped all players in the contest with nine kills, though the Viperes struggled to find a second point of attack. And then there were the unforced errors.
"Our biggest problem was that any time we started to put pressure on them, we would bail them out with a service error, or something like that, where they didn't have to do anything to get out of the pressure situation," stated Erven. "Vice versa, we had to earn our way out of the pressure situations."
For a team that started a lineup that featured two second year players (Karlee Gravelle and Maddison Loiselle) and two third year vets (Gagne and Megan Hicks), the challenge to get up to the speed of the OCAA game has shown signs of development.
"It's harder to adjust on the defensive side, especially for the blockers," said Gagne, a 20 year old native of Sturgeon Falls, and proud product of the Franco Cite Patriotes volleyball factory. "If you've been playing at a slower speed, you might not close your block as fast as you need to, or you might not be setting up on defence in the right spot, because you're not used to just how fast that ball is coming over."
It was on this side of the ball where coach Erven saw the most encouraging signs.
"I felt that, for the most part, our defence was a lot better," he said. "We recycled a lot of balls that in the past, we hadn't done. I felt our defence was one of the things that didn't really let us down tonight - it helped keep us in there."
"I was happy to see that."
He was undoubtedly also happy to get a second shot at Cambrian, with the men's game right on the heels of the ladies. Boasting a deeper lineup that his cross-town rivals, Erven would help guide the Viperes lads to a 25-20, 25-18, 25-21 triumph and their first win of the season.
"We might have went in to it with a little bit too much confidence," acknowledged Erven. "Maybe we were favourites going in and maybe we had that in our minds a little bit, but we kind of forgot that we had to work to earn it, that they weren't just going to give it to us."
Receiving the expected contribution for the one-man wrecking crew that was Michel Ayotte (the 3rd year native of Val Therese easily showed the way offensively, finishing with 22 kills), the Viperes also rolled rookie Brett McIntosh nicely into the attack, the Barrie product adding another nine kills of his own.
"We had confidence that he would get to this point," said Erven of the first year student in Promotions de la Sante. "We were running him in the middle a lot, but we were not passing with quality consistently enough to keep him engaged in the middle. He's got the size and he's got the swing of a good outside player, so we threw him out there (left side)."
Ironically, while McIntosh very much appreciated the move, it wasn't because of his ability to pound more balls to the floor from power versus middle. "For me, defence is for sure the key, I feel that I am a better defensive player," he said. "I used to play middle, all of the time, so I always got subbed off, which I was never happy about."
"Now I have started to play left side, so I'm playing defence all of the time, and I think the coach feels confident with my defence as well."
A scrappy but extremely young Cambrian crew battled for every single point, unable to dominate at the net and hit over the top of the Boreal defenders. In fact, no player of the Golden Shield managed more than four kills, with Cody Therrien reaching that mark and Alex Tegman and Liam Flaherty adding three kills each.