Nationals marks an improvement from provincials
by Randy Pascal
Sometimes, performance can not be measured solely by wins and losses.
Displaying consistently better volleyball than they had played at provincials, the Northern Chill 15U Girls would encounter some stiff competition
at nationals last weekend in Kitchener-Waterloo, finishing with a record of 3-4.
Day one proved most telling, as a really solid effort in three straight matches did not translate to a visit to the win column. The Chill were felled,
in succession, by the Impacte from Québec (26-24, 16-25, 10-15), the Ottawa Maverick Ambush (17-25, 17-25) and the Stratford Stingers
(25-23, 10-25, 16-18).
Thankfully, there was little if any residual carry-over into Day two, as the Sudbury girls rebounded with three straight wins, outscoring the Ottawa
Maverick Trailblazers (25-23, 29-27), Pegasus Volleyball from Kingston (25-23, 25-17) and the Bedford Blizzard from Nova Scotia (25-12,
Unfortunately, the Chill would draw the eventual silver medal winning team right out of the gate on playoff Sunday, eliminated with a 25-17, 8-25, 9-15 loss at the
hands of the Toronto Galaxy Jets. Still, by every other measure imagineable, the 15U locals closed off the 2016-2017 on a high.
"We're more positive on the court," noted 14 year old middle Amber Jacques. "When someone makes an error, we help each other out. Last year, we
would get mad at each other. We talk a lot louder on the court, we don't give up on a ball."
On strictly a personal level, the 5'6" grade nine student at Ecole Secondaire l'Horizon has handled a big move on the court, sliding over from
setter to middle. "I wanted to hit a little bit more, and also wanted to work on my passing," she said.
"My height is a disadvantage, I play against some girls that are six feet tall, so I need a higher "vert"." To a player, the girls on the 15U team were
adament in the week leading into nationals that they had learned some important lessons just a week or two earlier at provincials.
"We were a little disappointed," recalled setter Symantha Welsh of Lasalle. "The first games we played, we weren't ready. We needed to spend more
time together before the game." In that sense, a first set victory over their opening opponent from Québec signalled a better frame of mind, right from
the start, as players keyed in on the main aspects of their own game, searching for progress.
"I really wanted to focus on watching what the other team does, making sure to make smart sets, and not set twenty metre balls in the middle," said
Welsh. "I kind of use my peripheral vision. When you're facing one way, you can kind of see if they're cheating off a little on one side or the other."
Head coach James Schweyer was back for a second year with the 15U age bracket, though he welcomed in a whole new class of girls from the team
that included his daughter in 2015-2016. In this particular age bracket, that extra year of experience proved particularly helpful.
"It's the realization that the girls are going from grade eight to grade nine, and then they have all of the high school sports layered on top that,"
stated Schweyer. "You have to learn to tailor your practices around your tournaments. Some of these girls played 28 straight days this winter."
Mind you, with all of that time on the court, there is ample opportunity to determine the critical areas one wishes to address in practice. "The number
one thing with this age group is communication," said Schweyer. "The ball will still land between people."
"It's trying to make sure that in a situation, everyone knows who takes responsibility for that area. Once you get that foundation set, with all of the
players on the team thinking the same way, then it's just execution."
And after taking some time to hit their stride in late April, facing the very best that Ontario has to offer, coach Schweyer and staff knew exactly the
end goals they had targetted for their final event of the year.
"At nationals, I want them to enjoy the takeaway of playing in those bigger situations. I want them to play good matches." And that they did.
The 2016-2017 Northern Chill U15 squad was comprised of a roster of Erika Brown, Katie Staffen, Emma Bissonnette, Hailey Selk, Brielle Chicoine, Katia
Legros, Amber Jacques, Emma Squires, Amelina Iturregui, Symantha Welsh, Ayla Jones, Lauren Jeanneault, and coaches James Schweyer, Sheldon
Root and Nathan Squires.