"It was the right time for me, and the right person for me."
Head coach Dale Beausoleil and the Cambrian Golden Shield women's volleyball team were certainly not about to complain about the unexpected surprise arrival of Chella Garcia, more than two decades ago, a woman who would go on to become a key contributor to medal winning teams in all three years that she played in Sudbury.
"Not only was Dale my coach, he became my family," said Garcia, now nicely settled into her life as an Albertan for the past decade or so. "His dad became my dad. They just took me in like another member of the family, and there was no question about it."
"It was just a very welcoming environment."
That was a very good thing, considering that Garcia was born and raised in the Philippines, moving to Canada only after she had already hit her teenage years. Thankfully, her time back home also offered her an extensive introduction to the sport in which she would later excel.
"Volleyball was big in the Philippines," she noted. "My mom played volleyball, competitively, when she was growing up, and then she played in college, so I would always follow her around and watch her play. That was kind of how I got exposed to the sport."
"I remember being very young and passing against the wall of our house, and getting in trouble with my gramma," Garcia added with a laugh.
It wasn't until she reached high-school, the equivalent of grade seven in Canada, that she would venture to the more competitive side of the sport, creating something of an eye-opening experience when she and her mom moved halfway across the globe when she was 15 years of age.
"When I first went to high-school in Canada, I remember thinking that this doesn't look like volleyball to me," explained Garcia. "It was volleyball, but it wasn't. But I made the senior (high-school) team in grade nine, just because I had more experience from playing back home."
Still, it was not quite a parallel experience, factoring in some cultural inequities that existed in both of her worlds. "It was a little different in the Philippines because I was considered quite tall at 5'11", six feet," she said. "I was always put in the middle position, but I knew that wasn't where I wanted to be."
"I got moved to the outside, which is where I played in Canada and the US, usually on the left side, but in my last year at Guelph (University), with a new setter on our team, I played right side."
Garcia was nothing if not well-travelled.
It was actually during a short stop at Lake Superior State University, when circumstances forced the up and coming talent to tackle a slightly more reduced balance of academics and athletics, that Garcia would find her way to Cambrian College.
"I didn't even know where Cambrian was," she recalled, as a previous volleyball opponent from time that Garcia had spent in Timmins - she and her mother had moved there, for a few years, to join her grand-mother - had suggested that the Golden Shield might provide a comfortable temporary landing spot, a place where she could continue to grow her game.
"What I loved about Dale was that he really focused on technical training - that, and the fact that he always made sure that you mattered to him first as a person, and then as an athlete," said Garcia. "Dale could drive excellence, with his team, because you just wanted to be the best that you can be for him."
Not that his talented new arrival required a great deal of additional motivation. "Once I had that first year under my belt, I wanted to be that pressure player, that go-to player. If we needed a kill, I wanted to be that person."
Attending national team tryouts after her third year with the Golden Shield, Garcia would join the Guelph Gryphons of the OUA, completing her five years of eligibility by suiting up for a pair of seasons down south. And where many a post-secondary varsity athlete would ease into highly recreational settings once the peak of their competitive days are done, Garcia was simply not wired that way.
"After Guelph, we put together an adult club team - they were big in Ontario at the time," she said. "We competed at the World Masters Games in Australia (Sydney - 2009), won a bronze medal, and then competed in Italy four years later. I stopped playing competitively three years ago, to focus on coaching."
In fact, Garcia had first dipped her toes into the coaching pool not all that long after her graduation from Guelph, assisting then Cambrian head coach Shane St Louis for a brief stint in Sudbury. For the past seven years, she has coached, at various times, either one of or both club teams or high-school teams, all while still hitting the sands in the summer to compete in upper level masters beach volleyball events.
"A lot of my coaching came from Dale, and then some other coaches that I had," she said. "But most of the technical coaching came from Dale."
Perhaps because he was just the right coach in just the right place at just the right time - at least in the eyes of Chella Garcia, he was.