The Maverick 15U boys won their provincial championship on March 6 in Kitchener-Waterloo. Photo provided
By Josh Wegman
Whether it's high school or club provincials, university nationals or the international stage, a remarkable number of local players' names continue to pop up at the top of various levels of volleyball.
This month, the Ottawa Sportspage takes a look at seven athletes claiming a mix of impressive achievements in the sport.
SABRINA ROY, HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the term losing is “resulting in or likely to result in defeat.” This is all unfamiliar territory for Sabrina Roy.
This March, Roy earned her fourth consecutive OFSAA 'AA' volleyball title with the Gisèle-Lalonde Titans in Thunder Bay. It's a feat that's considered a probable historic first.
"While other schools have had four-year runs at OFSAA championships, it is highly unlikely that any one of them had a single member of their starting lineup remain for that run," notes Kerry Maclean, a long-time high school coach and president of the Ottawa Mavericks, Roy's club.
The Titans dropped only one set at the provincials, and Roy put a final exclamation point on her gold-filled high school career.
"It’s a great feeling,” says the versatile athlete who can play left side, setter and libero. “My goal going into this year was to win OFSAA again, so it’s great."
Roy, a likely recruit for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees next year, celebrated three of her four OFSAA crowns with her older sister Rebecca, also her partner for beach volleyball.
“I really like playing with my sister," highlights the 2013 Ontario beach silver medalist in the under-24 category. "We have great chemistry, we never give up, and we always smile and have fun together. We really help each other a lot.”
It was a big year altogether for local high schools at the OFSAA girls' volleyball finals, with Samuel-Genest losing their only sets to Gisèle-Lalonde en route to a 'AA' bronze medal, Louis-Riel winning silver in the 'A' ranks, Glebe taking silver in 'AAAA' with a 15-12 fifth-set loss in the final, and Franco-Cité and Lisgar reaching the 'AAA' consolation final.
ALEXANDRE ST-DENIS, CLUB VOLLEYBALL PLAYER
Of all the highs for local volleyball players in the past month, likely no one experienced a bigger moment of jubilation than Alexandre St-Denis and his Maverick 15-and-under boys' team. At the Ontario championships April 4-6 in Waterloo, the Mavs overcame an 8-4 final-set deficit in the gold medal match to prevail 18-16 over west Toronto's Pakmen, the tournament favourites.
"All my teammates, and my coach, we were so excited," St-Denis recounts. "We all jumped up and came together on the centre of our side of the court. It was so awesome. We were all cheering, huddling up and we did our Mavs cheer so many times. We were just so happy about it.
"And of course, the parents came and hugged my teammates, and they were so happy. The parents and the team have such a good chemistry. We were so happy as a team to win that gold medal. It was so awesome."
The championship game, remarkably, was the team's fourth victory (out of 10 games) that came by the minimum two points in three sets.
"It was really good experience for our team to play many third sets," St-Denis adds. "We wanted it so badly as a team and we had so much confidence."
Although he got to enjoy much of the glory with a trio of big kills in the deciding set and tournament MVP honours, St-Denis says it was "team defence" that truly made the difference.
"I think defence wins games and that's what we did," signals St-Denis, also part of a family act with brother Maxime setting balls for him and father François calling the shots as coach. "We really wanted to keep our ball off the ground. We stayed strong as a team and kept competing until the end."
The Ottawa Fusion came out on the opposite end of the three-set 15U boys' tier 2 final, taking silver.
MYRIAM ENGLISH, LOCAL WOMEN'S UNIVERSITY PLAYER
The uOttawa Gee-Gees volleyball equivalents of the NHL’s Sedin twins did some serious damage this year.
Maverick-brewed Myriam and Kelsie English have been a force for the Gee-Gees over their storied Canadian Interuniversity Sport careers, helping the team to two consecutive appearances at the national championships. Both were recognized as All-Canadians this season, Myriam on the first team and Kelsie on the second.
“We have such a close bond," details Myriam, the Gee-Gees' female athlete of the year. "She’s not only my teammate but my best friend and I can’t imagine playing without her.”
A pair of losses at March's nationals in Regina put an end to her team's run this season, the social sciences student plans to return for a fifth year to take another crack at a Canadian title, although she's uncertain about her volleyball career after that.
“Obviously I would like to go pro one day. Playing in Europe would be amazing,” Myriam indicates. “It will depend on job opportunities. If I can get a teaching job, then I’ll have to take it.”
PHIL YELDON, LOCAL MEN'S COLLEGE PLAYER
In the Canadian college men's volleyball ranks, there is currently no bigger name than Algonquin College's Phil Yeldon. The Ottawa native was named Ontario MVP last year, and this season, he earned the title of best Canadian college player.
“Winning MVP a second time proved to everyone that my first year wasn’t a fluke,” underlines Yeldon, who's earned back-to-back Ontario east conference titles with the Thunder.
The 6’3" outside hitter also owns a national championship ring from his youth days with the Mavs. The coach of the Mavericks during their run to the 18U title was Jay Mooney, now the Thunder's coach.
"I really liked his style,” Yeldon says, explaining why he favoured Algonquin over opportunities elsewhere.
Another key factor in choosing Algonquin was the fitness and health promotion program, from which he'll soon receive a diploma. Despite all the accolades, Yeldon’s prime focus isn’t on volleyball.
“I plan to take year off from school and volleyball and join the workforce,” he states. “I’m just taking it one year at a time. I’m not ruling out coming back to it in future.”
SOPHIE CARPENTIER, OUT-OF-TOWN WOMEN'S UNIVERSITY PLAYER
Five years ago, Sophie Carpentier was “just looking to have some fun” when she tried out for a Mavs team, unaware at the time how much this decision would drastically change her life.
Now a star for the Trinity Western University Spartans in Langley, B.C., the right-side player earned first-team All-Canadian honours in just her second year.
“If I wouldn’t have played on (the 17U HP Mavericks), I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Carpentier emphasizes. “The hours of practice we put in, the scrimmages and the awesome coaching that (John Spack) does gave me the discipline to push myself like I do today.”
This past summer, Carpentier lined up alongside several Gee-Gees for Team Ontario at the Canada Summer Games, but she's also been on the opposing side at the past two nationals, earning the upper hand on both occasions to win 2013 bronze and wind up fifth this year.
"It was kind of fun to play against them because it’s the girls I grew up playing with and against,” notes the player who carries Team Canada aspirations. “As bad as it sounds, beating them was even better.”
Also a member of Team Ontario last summer, the University of Toronto's Charlotte Sider of Ottawa was a second-team All-Canadian this season as well.
JORI MANTHA, OUT-OF-TOWN MEN'S UNIVERSITY PLAYER
Jori Mantha added an Ontario player of the year award and a CIS bronze medal to his hardware collection this season, but the fourth-year McMaster Marauder is still hungry for more.
“We thought we underachieved this year,” notes Mantha, who collected a CIS silver medal last season. “After failing to reach the finals, it took a lot of character from our team to be able pull ourselves together and win that bronze (over Laval).”
Getting that close to a championship was hard for the Colonel By Secondary School grad.
“Growing up, I was very competitive and it made me frustrated when I didn’t achieve the goals I set out for myself,” notes the former 18U national-champion teammate of Yeldon. “I’ve learned to control my emotions, and if I don’t achieve my goals, I’m prepared to accept that and create new goals that I can achieve step by step.”
The 6’3" right-side is a five-year member of Team Ontario and plans to seek a pro contract once his CIS career is complete.
JÉRÉMIE LORTIE, TEAM CANADA MEN'S PLAYER
It's a rather improbable destination for both, but the two volleyball players competing at the highest level out of Ottawa's large crop never really played the sport until their late teens.
A national team member since 2009 and currently playing professionally in Switzerland, Orleans' Adam Simac was focused on baseball and had only played volleyball casually in high school before he took up the Queen's University coach's offer to teach him the game.
Jérémie Lortie carries a similar story. Also an Orleans native, he was all about hockey before he traded shin pads for knee pads at age 16.
The 23-year-old’s career has taken off since then. Lortie celebrated a CIS national championship in his final year at Université Laval alongside younger brother Bruno on their home court last season.
“At nationals, (Bruno) was the one who lit up the crowd," recalls the 2013 tournament MVP. "Every point, he would go crazy, then the crowd would do the same."
The 6’7" middle – also a product of that Mavs' 18U-champion squad – is now on the Canadian national men's development team, training 30 hours a week out of their centre in Gatineau.
“At Laval we basically worked a month individually then got right into team play,” explains Lortie, who carries aspirations of making the senior national team in the near future. “Here it’s more about individual development and making you a better volleyball player by improving your weaknesses.”
The development team traveled to France at the end of March for joint training with French national program players, and a series of matches.
“We had the chance to watch a couple of pro games there – it was a great atmosphere,” recounts Lortie, whose trip carried the partial purpose of trying to land pro jobs for rising Canadian talents. “Hopefully I can get into a pretty good league somewhere and just continue playing the sport I dreamed of playing professionally for a long time.”