Down two sets to none and having been beaten soundly (25-9) in the second set, the Cambrian Golden Shield men's volleyball team appeared destined to go quietly into the night, extending their season long losing streak to 14 games.
And while the setback ultimately came to pass, it was anything but quiet for coach Tom Sutton and company, whose team includes no less than eight first year OCAA athletes on a roster of eleven.
The home side would give their cross-town rivals quite the scare, downing the College Boreal Viperes 26-24 in the third set, and up 24-22 in the fourth before finally succumbing 24-26. As Sutton noted casually after the game, the fight in his squad was commendable, even if Cambrian would eventually fall victim to the lack of experience in dealing with key make or break points.
While this is often the case, traditionally, for the Boreal lads, as well, the 2019-2020 campaign has seen a bump in their level of competitiveness, with veterans Michel Ayotte and Stephen Lefaive leading the way.
"We have those two third year players and they are really motivated guys," noted sophomore middle and resident of Moonbeam, Jaden Chouinard. "They work really hard, so all of the rookies and second years are all feeding off them. They are giving us energy every game."
The Viperes men would complete their season sweep of the Shield on Wednesday, following up a November triumph at home (25-20, 25-18, 25-21) with a slightly more challenging effort this time around (25-19, 25-9, 24-26, 26-24).
"Our coach (Jamie Erven) said that we looked a little jittery, a little too focused, and we kept blaming it on ourselves," said Chouinard, whose father and uncle both played at Cambrian some two decades ago. "We had to go back to our roots, keep the game simple, don't do anything fancy."
"As soon as we got that, we were right back on track."
Almost unstoppable in the second set, Stephen Lefaive would lead the Boreal attack with 14 kills, followed by Michel Ayotte (8) and Brett McIntosh (7), with middle Alex Tegman easily the most effective Cambrian attacker, also hitting double digits with a 10-kill effort.
While the Viperes did most of their damage, on the attack, from the outside, the Shield favoured a run through the interior, where the Confederation Secondary graduate (Tegman) was a force to be reckoned with, a challenging assignment for Chouinard, who is four inches shorter.
"I tended to key on my guy (Tegman), because there was a mismatch, obviously," noted Chouinard. "I wanted to try and take away the five (position #5 on the floor), and hopefully my lib (libero) at the back was there if I missed it. I had a few good blocks today, but he (Tegman) beat me as well at times - he had a good game."
The Cambrian women also enjoyed a decent game, sweeping Boreal by scores of 25-14, 25-17, 25-11. "It could have been better," suggested rookie attacker Sarah Ramage. "I don't think we played as strong as we possibly could. But in the end, it's a win."
With the win, the Golden Shield improved to 3-11, keeping alive their slim playoff hopes, still six points back of the Sheridan Bruins, while the Viperes fell to 0-14 on the year. Given the competition, coach Dale Beausoleil took full advantage to provide court time for all 13 of his players that were dressed for the contest, with no less than 11 Cambrian athletes recording kills on the evening.
For Ramage, a native of Guelph, in her first year of Pre-Health with an eye towards the Diagnostic Ultra-Sound program, the evening was part of the perpetual evolution that first year OCAA athletes often face.
"I didn't really know what to expect," she said. "We practice a lot, almost every night, so it's a lot of your time. You definitely have to budget your time for school and volleyball. And there's a lot of coaching - a lot of coaches here, a lot of people to help you, to pull you aside and work on things, one on one."
One of seven local products in the Boreal roster and a three year veteran with the team, Caroline Pellerin is nearing the other end of the spectrum, showcasing her experience by leading her team offensively with six kills, one better than Karlee Gravelle. And while wins have been hard to come by, the graduate of College Notre-Dame remains thankful for the time she has enjoyed with her teammates.
"It's all about the environment and the girls," said Pellerin. "We all support each other so much, and it's such an addictive high, that positive energy. You know that no matter the score, we all go in as a team and we all come out as a team."
Battling the Golden Shield for the third time in her career at Cambrian College, Pellerin acknowledged that it is still a challenge to adjust to their venue. "The gym here is way bigger, the ceilings are higher, and you have a lot more room behind the end line to work with," she said.
"When you're serving, the ball just flies, so you have to be more aware of the court, itself, kind of re-train your brain not to crank it the same way that you would at your home gym."
In fairness to the Viperes, the first two sets remained close into double digit scoring, with both affairs tied at 10-10 before the Shield would eventually pull away. "I thought we were really calm tonight," said Pellerin. "When we were in our defensive positions, there was a lot of talk, reminding each other to communicate, make sure that we were all aware of the situation."
"That open communication makes it so much easier to play as a team."
And as for the team that she will leave behind, there is cause for optimism, in her mind. "Zoe (Gagne) is staying, which is a huge positive for the team," said Pellerin. "That would be her fourth year as a setter, which really helps the stability of the team."