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Friday, Jun. 22, 2018
Chill 17U Girls lead the charge to provincials
by Randy Pascal

The Northern Chill 17U Girls have been down this path before.

Next to the collection of Sudbury female club volleyball talent born in 1999, this team under the guidance of head coach Craig Thomson can draw on the most years of experience as they prepare to kickoff the frenzy that is the 2017 OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) Championships that will run throughout the entire month of April.

"I still get as nervous as I did back in 14U, because we all care so much about the sport," noted power hitter Kayla Murray, one of several mainstays with the Chill organization that features a 17U lineup that has remained completely intact for each of the past three years.

"When I was young, it all sounded so scary, all the courts that are there, such a big gym," setter Brooke Smith agreed. "Now, going there, you already know what you're expecting, so it's less intimidating - but it's still our biggest tournament of the year."

Teetering right on the precipice of the Division I/Division II cutoff heading into provincials, the Chill found their way into the top half of the draw, meaning the competition they will face will be much, much stiffer than had they slid down to slot #33 or below.

"For us to keep up with those teams, we will need to run as fast as them," noted Smith. "Lots of teams down there are big and fast, and we're not the biggest team around, so being fast is key for us."

Technically speaking, the majority of the team's efforts in recent practices have been squarely focused on a couple of key elements. "We were told that the two most important things in any volleyball game are serving and receiving," said Murray.

"Craig has really been working us. That is where we have struggled though most of our years as volleyball players." For the top-end hitter with the two-time NOSSA champion Lockerby Vikings crew, this emphasis is even more personal.

"I love hitting, I love jumping, I love pounding the ball," said Murray. "To me, that's second nature. But when it comes to passing, it becomes much more mental." Of course, in the case of Smith, it's fine-tuning that "second pass" (the set), the one that allows Murray and those of her ilk to pound away successfully, that becomes the target of her perfection.

Even moreso, as the scope of the attack unveiled at this level is increasingly more complex. "We used to run higher balls, so we dialed it down and ran our offense a little bit faster, connected with our middles a little more," said Smith.

"My challenge is trying to get the ball to where everyone needs it. Even though we run the same tempo ball all of the time, some girls like it a little bit higher. It's a little bit different for everyone."

And when all is said and done come some time on Sunday, it will be the special memories that remain, just as they have in so many previous trips to provincials. "When I was 15U, I don't think we were doing too great," recalled Murray.

"Our coach, Carly (Santi), had us all sit in a circle and we all came up with one thing that we really appreciated about every other player on the team. I think that's really when we all clicked."

Joining Smith and Murray in Kitchener-Waterloo this weekend, as members of the 17U Chill team, are Marissa Beeson, Natasha Gervais, Christina Rorison, Lexi Johnson, Samantha McGrath, Becca Hopkins, Alison Labrash, Mikaela Richter, Sydney Coles as well as assistant coaches Kevin Wiseman and Megan Labrash.

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