A rare home court advantage for Northern Chill girls
by Randy Pascal
In a typical year, the stable of teams representing the Northern Chill Volleyball Club will partake in roughly thirty OVA (Ontario Volleyball
Association) sanctioned tournaments across Ontario.
In that same typical year, only one or two of those tournaments might actually be hosted in Sudbury, as northern clubs struggle with the fact that
attendance at these events, all co-ordinated through the offices of the OVA, is not mandatory.
Suffice to say that when the locals get the chance to perform on the home front, it’s a pretty big deal.
“All of your friends come to support you, and all of your family is here,” noted Chill U16 middle Kate Dugdale, taking a break following pool
play this past Saturday at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School. “It feels “homey” and welcoming.”
The U16 crew are one of the two local teams that will enjoy that feeling this year, with the Northern Chill 15U girls set to welcome eight other teams
to town for Bugarski Cup play, in their age bracket, on March 25th.
“There’s so many people cheering for us, and we get to sleep at home and get a good sleep,” agreed setter Erin Gaffney. “We’re so close to home,
so there isn’t a long drive to get to the gym. It’s nice.”
In the end, one would have to say that home court advantage helped. The U16 Chill posted a 2-1 record in the morning, losing only to a very strong
Aurora Storm Blizzard crew, and then knocked off the Leaside Lightning 25-16, 25-21, booking their place in the final four.
Two setbacks to end the day, including a tough loss to the Georgian Cubs (who they had beaten to start the day) did not detract from a fourth
place finish that keeps coach Joanna Castonguay and company in the “championship” flight level.
For reference purposes, most OVA categories are broken into a “premier” division (usually top 14-18 teams), “championship” flight (the
next 35-40 teams) and the “trillium” grouping (final 70-80 teams in the province).
All in all, it’s been a very successful year, so far, for the local 16U girls. “We’re getting there, each tournament is getting better and better,” said
Dugdale. “I feel like it’s our confidence, at times. We have the skills to do it, but we just don’t put them into play some of the time.”
“We play up to the teams that are in premier, but we’ll play down to teams in our own division.” Mixed in with a full complement of high school
volleyball, the twelve young athletes on this roster will get more than their fair share of a sport that they love.
For Dugdale and Gaffney, there was an added bonus last summer, with both players selected to the squad that would represent the North East region at the
Ontario Summer Games. There is something to be learned from every single experience.
“There was definitely different coaching,” stated Gaffney. “I had a chance to get different tips and stuff, and I got a chance to play all positions,
working on all of my skills, including hitting and passing.”
An undersized squad compared to other top end U16 club teams, the Northern Chill have battled hard to find ways to compensate. “I feel that our defense
is amazing,” said Dugdale. “We’re not that tall, so we don’t have the best offense for hitting, but on defense, we can dig anything.”
“We’ve started learning combos, we’re so excited. Watching my sister (Alana) play at 18U, that’s what they were doing, running all over the place, and I
kept thinking that one day, I want to be able to play like that.”
That quest for knowledge has not gone unnoticed by either Castonguay or assistant coach Claudette Loranger, a pairing that have become pretty
regular fixtures recently at the 16U level, with groups of talented youngsters filtering through their hands.
“These girls are sponges,” said Castonguay. “Anything I say, anything Madame (Loranger) says, there is always their intention that “I want to do what
you want me to do”. It’s wonderful to have kids who want to learn, learn, learn, learn. It’s such a good feeling for us.”
Where some coaches enjoy the stability that comes from following a given collection of athletes up through the ranks, Castonguay offers a counter-point.
“You get to re-start that journey, you start from fresh,” she said. “That’s kind of the fun part about having a new team each year.”
“I always kind of go in with a clean slate. We have some idea of what we think should be done at 16U and where we have to go, but you have to approach
it on a team by team basis. These guys are super athletic and big time learners. We’re not big, but we’re quick. We use what we have to be as efficient as
we can be.”
“These kids blow us away, every practice, in terms of where they want to get to, learning new things.” Now in the home stretch, the 16U Northern Chill
team will focus their preparation towards the OVA provincials in April, as all seven teams representing the local club make the trek to RIM Park in
Kitchener-Waterloo, site of the entire competition that spans a four week stretch in the spring.
Joining Dugdale and Gaffney on the roster of the local squad are Isabelle Moreau, Jaime Schweyer, Milenna Gigliotti, Sydney Koehler, Dara Desrochers,
Ryann Hudson, Jayden Rivers, Geneviève Gauthier, Mallory Frantz and Isabella Adams.