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In search of sport beyond high-school

Some will celebrate the achievement of their goal. Others are still striving to get there.

The reality, for a select number of truly elite local high-school athletes, is that there is certainly hope to play beyond their graduation from grade twelve.

For golfer Evan MacLean, the ultimate reward would require one additional stop along the way.

A graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, with sights set on an NCAA Division I scholarship, MacLean opted to accept the invitation to join the Parkland College Cobras in Champagne (Illinois) last year, when the top-end schools were still sitting on the fence in assessing his talent on the links.

Less than a year into his two year commitment with the Division II junior college, MacLean would receive the call he had hoped for, accepting an offer with the Bowling Green State Falcons of the Mid-American Conference, an NCAA Division I university located in Bowling Green, Ohio.

The Sudbury native had initially gotten some attention courtesy of a series of Florida tournaments, which had Bowling Green head coach John Powers at least kicking the tires. "When I decided to go to Parkland, I kept in touch with him," said MacLean last week. "Getting off to a hot start here, it helped me stay on their radar."

"And then another good start this fall season, winning my first event, kind of set everything in stone, which was pretty stress relieving."

The arrival of MacLean, next September, will actually double the local content for the Ohio-based school, with Lockerby Composite graduate Ward Kyle currently in year three of his career with the Falcons. "It just kind of felt like home," said MacLean. "The minute I stepped on campus, it felt like the right fit."

"And the team, I think, is going to be exceptional next year, with four seniors. I wanted to be on a team which could compete, especially with the MAC," he added. In fact, MacLean arrives with somewhat different credentials, and clearly different expectations, than a standard freshman. This was made abundantly clear in the media release of his signing issued at Bowling Green.

"Evan brings some great experience to our team with college reps under his belt already," noted coach Powers. "He knows how to go low and has been in contention quite a bit at Parkland. Evan is a very motivated person who has kept improving at every stage of his career." The potential that lies within is not lost at all on the well-spoken young man.

"It's more on the mental side, that's going to be the main factor for me," said MacLean. "Just realizing that I am at a much higher level than I was before, I need to take my mental game to the next level as well. That's the one thing holding me back right now." Thankfully, there is a life-long sounding board still very much in the picture.

"Obviously, my parents helped me get to where I am right now, but I think the main person has been my grandpa on my mom's side (John Okell)," MacLean stated. "He watched me grow up and play the game my whole life. He was on the range with me when I was five, and he's on the range with me now."

"Having him there really helps - I pretty much talk to him after every round."

Perhaps every single member of the Lo-Ellen Park Prep basketball team also has just such a confidant(e). With an entire roster whose vision for the future involves post-secondary hoops, the Knights are where they need to be, competing within the ultra-competitive Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association.

Unfortunately, that type of competition carries with it certain realities. Hosting a pair of the absolute best teams in Ontario over the weekend, Lo-Ellen had to be content with learning from their experience, dropping a 101-71 decision on Friday to the defending national champs (Cresswood Prep), and staying in the contest right down to the final minutes on Saturday before bowing down to Bill Crothers Secondary School, 71-64.

"I feel like when we are in close games like that, it gives us more energy and more excitement to want to push harder," said Claudia Pellerin-Olutayo, following the loss in game two. "That's a highly ranked team, so even just to be in that situation is good. We really wanted to win that, but even competing against them is good for us as a team."

The visitors were led by Ciante Downs (26 pts), a 5'8" guard who was named to the second all-star team at the U15 Canadian Nationals in 2017, and Isaline Alexander (21), a teammate of the Knights' tandem of Delaney Bourget and Emilie Lafond with Team Ontario (U17) this past summer.

"I feel that we're more comfortable with the competition, we've gotten used to the pressure and adjusted really well to how elite the league is," said Pellerin-Olutayo. "That jumping press that they do, where they just trap, we haven't really seen that from any other team. And their physicality with their posts - they have two really good post players - is something that we prepared for."

Just 16 years of age and still in grade 11, Pellerin-Olutayo is more than holding her own. She netted 25 points against Cresswood, with Lafond and Bourget atd 16 and 13 respectively, and shared top spot in the attack with Lafond on Saturday, with both young women at 17 points each.

Notably under-sized against the likes of both Cresswood and Crothers when it comes to competing in the paint, Pellerin-Olutayo is not about to back down. "I think the reason I love staying in the post is that I love to rebound, love being close to the rim." she said. "Going against their posts challenges me to use my creative finishes and my physicality, because I am a bigger guard. I like using my strength in there."

Strength that will ultimately help her, and likely the majority of her teammates, reach that pinnacle that Evan MacLean celebrated with family and friends just recently.

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club