The volleyball voyage for College Boreal assistant coach Jessica Filice has spanned a quarter century or so - to date.
Regardless of the nature of her involvement, the team has been central to everything that she has done. And come the fall of 2020, for the first time in seven years, Filice will be absent, as the team convenes at the home of the Viperes.
Having celebrated her 40th birthday last year, there remains plenty of time for the long-time Sudbury native to re-integrate herself in a sport that she loves. But for one year, at the least, Filice will look more inward than to the team.
An active young girl who enjoyed skating, swimming and tae-kwon-do, but not necessarily in competitive environments, this Laurentian University graduate (B.A. – Psychology – 2002) recalls with great clarity the initial volleyball influencer she would meet in her travels.
"My first coach ever was Pat McGuire (at St Raphael Catholic Elementary School), and I just adored him," Filice reminisced. "Here we were, a bunch of grade seven and eight girls, running around with knee-pads on our heads, just being goofballs. He would just look at us and laugh. He had the patience of a saint."
"He spent hours and hours working with us. It's one of my earliest memories of volleyball."
By the time she ascended to Lasalle Secondary School two years later, Filice had developed some proficiency in the sport, captain of her midget crew and honoured as MVP. "I always appreciated the team aspect of volleyball," she said. "You needed all six players."
"You couldn’t hide a weak player, so everybody had to develop and play."
Still, her needs were varied. Despite the intimidation of the first year of high-school environment, Filice would throw herself head-first into her school's sporting spectrum, serving on the Athletic Council, helping out as a scorekeeper, working the lines. Wherever help was needed, she was there.
It was here that she would catch the eye of Laura Aubertin, teacher, but also accomplished volleyball official. "Laura was a really strong team leader with the officials," said Filice. "I learned a lot from her. I think that's where I first realized that with any team, you need that team aspect, or you don't go anywhere."
Upon completing grade ten, Filice would hang up her jersey, as a player, following a fork in the road that would lead to elite officiating - at least for a while. "I was given more responsibility there, as an official, and I found that team of officials to be very much like a family. That was the path I was on - but in Sudbury, we had some roadblocks."
Attending university at the time, Filice had aspirations of climbing the ranks, as an official. But unable to commit to constant travel to Toronto, and not particularly interested in that route, her voyage would detour, one more time. It was actually her time as an official that opened her eyes to the possibility of taking coaching more seriously.
"I always loved listening to what the coaches were saying," she said with a smile. "It's a totally different perspective. You have your referee talks, and then you listen to coach talk with the athletes." It wasn't as though this was completely new territory for the soon-to-be teacher.
As far back as from grade ten, the young woman who simply could not say no had worked with all sorts of volleyball teams, over the years. The timing was right for a major move into coaching.
A fellow official and friend from that era, Shane St Louis had branched off, running the Club de Volleyball les Diables, sometime in or around 2004. "My first year with Shane, working as an assistant (coach), we won provincials," she stated, alluding to the 2004-2005 18U Diables' squad which featured her future partner in crime, coach Jamie Erven, as a player.
"The next year, I made the move to head coach of the 15U team where most of my players were under-aged, competing against players who had been playing club since they were five or six years old."
"I was pretty tough on my (early) club teams," Filice added. "It took me some time to realize the whole big picture of volleyball. It was a matter of experience."
Expanding the scope of her knowledge in 2009-2010, Filice was approached to serve as an assistant coach to former pro volleyball star Richard Faucher, manning the sidelines of Cambrian College, the pair having worked together on a regional team a couple of years prior.
"That was neat, because Richard had overseas experience," she said. "It was pretty cool to just come in and listen, to watch how he would do certain drills. To see the way he would think the game and call out plays before they even happened, because of where players released to, or what their tendencies were - I learned a lot during those games."
And though it was only one year, the season set her up nicely for a seven year run with Erven at Boreal, the coaching tandem tackling the women's team and men's team for three years each, before overseeing both programs this most recent winter.
"Jamie has been amazing to work with," said the recipient of the OVA Volleyball Achievement Award in 2007. "I think we share the same philosophy when we talk of success. For us, success is having our athletes leave us better than when they came in, better as athletes, as people."
And though she enjoyed her club head coaching days, recognized with the Diables President's Coaches Award in 2008, Filice suggested that assistant coach is where she truly excels. "I prefer to be in a supportive role," she said. "I think that I am better at it."
"When it comes to skills or comes to reading the cues, Jamie is very good at it. So as a head coach, Jamie would deliver the message and set out the drills and expectations. Then we could break off and work with players in small groups or individually, knowing that we are on the same page."
Ready for a respite, Filice is certainly not closing the door on volleyball.
"I think I would like to be able to just go out and watch, and just cheer them on," she said.
And when she does that, rest assured that she will be cheering on the team, just as she always has.