If there are beach volleyball tournaments to be played this summer, Kameryn Vanwallegham and Alexia Lemay-Evans will be ready.
Teaming up for the very first time in anticipation of some return to the OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) circuit to which they had grown accustomed the past few summers, the local teens have extra motivation to remain at the top of their game, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The tandem became the two latest additions to the ever-increasing list of Northern Chill Volleyball Club talent to crack a provincial roster, with Vanwallegham named to Team Ontario - Beach, while Lemay-Evans makes a return trip to the squad she first enjoyed in 2019, selected for Team Ontario - Red.
Ironically, both of the young women tapped into a dance background in their youth, though their respective height (Vanwallegham is 6'1" - Lemay-Evans is 6'0") is far more handy when they crossed over to their all-consuming athletic pursuit of choice.
"Volleyball is my life now," said Vanwallegham, a grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School who managed to make the cut, provincially, while still underage, just recently celebrating her 15th birthday.
"There is nothing else that I want to do, nothing else that is my passion to do. I love the energy of it, the energy that comes from getting a good pass and a good set and a big kill."
While both have plenty of experience at the middle position, Vanwallegham made a move in club that came very much to her liking in 2019-2020, as a member of the 15U Chill Avalanche. "This year, I played right side," she said.
"I liked right side more than I like middle, but I'm not really sure why. I think it just feels like I have more room to full out swing and stuff. In the middle, you're just in the middle of everything."
Of course, extra room is exactly what Vanwallegham will enjoy with the outdoor version of volleyball, as she strives towards a post-secondary career in the sport, following in the footsteps of her father (Kurtis), who competed for eight years on the Canadian Pro Beach Tour.
"If I could play beach all year round, I think I would," she stated. "I just love being out at the beach, competing. The mental game for beach is different. There's only two people, so if you have negative energy, it won't work. You have to stay positive, or you'll never go anywhere."
As for her first of what she hopes will be recurring stops on a provincial team roster, Vanwallegham is anxious to push herself even more. "I look forward to learning new skills, learning to be competitive playing with kids that are a year older than me," she said.
"I'm interested to see how that all plays out."
Thankfully, she won't have to look far for guidance. Turning 16 years old in September and preparing to enter grade 11 at College Notre-Dame at that time, Alexia Lemay-Evans was in Vanwallegham's shoes this time last year, thankful to see her name among the successful candidates with Team Ontario - White.
"Normally, with Team Ontario - Red, you're supposed to go compete in the Canada Cup in Calgary," she said. "That's why it's different than Team Ontario - White. Obviously, we're not going this year, because of the pandemic, so it's a little more similar than it is normally."
Despite making her second appearance at the provincial team level, Lemay-Evans was anything but confident, as Covid-19 threw a wrench into her plans that was perhaps more impactful than most. "They had changed the process this year, where you were supposed to get picked to attend a tryout," she said.
"I was counting on the fact that I was good enough to make it to the tryout, and that's when I really had to perform." Then the pandemic cancelled all tryouts. Athletes would be selected based on what scouts had seen in tournament play.
"I was kind of nervous, because I wasn't sure I had given enough," acknowledged the well-spoken product of Ecole Ste-Marie in Azilda. "They only came to see one of our games. That was at our first select division tournament, and it was rough."
"Thankfully, the game they came to watch was our best game of the day."
Now breathing more easily, Lemay-Evans can return to focusing on her continued improvement, expanding the scope of her volleyball knowledge that much more in 2019-2020 thanks to Northern Chill 16U coach Sheldon Root.
"He was very different from my other coaches," she stated. "It was much more focused on the strategic aspect of the game, which I love. I still have a lot of work to do on that. One thing that Sheldon really pushed is that as I get to the higher levels and other girls are tall, I won't just be able to depend on my height."
"I want to learn to use my block strategically, turning my hands in, pushing over, things like that - and same thing with swinging. A lot of times, I can put balls down because I am tall and can just reach over everyone else. I have to be more strategic, knowing where the weaker defender is, relying less on my height and more on my volleyball IQ and decision-making."