By Martin Boyce
Two brothers, and a third quasi-brother, are eager to take the volleyball world by storm at the 2017 Canada Summer Games with the Ontario boys’ team.
Although Ethan Kalef isn’t Alexandre and Maxime St-Denis’ biological brother, he’s developed such a relationship from 4 years of competing with and against them.
“All three of us, we treat each other like brothers,” signals Kalef, Maxime’s beach volleyball partner of 3 years. “We try to bring everyone in as brothers and that’s actually part of our team chemistry.”
The local trio all had fathers dedicated to the game, living and breathing volleyball as they grew up.
“When I was first born, my dad gave me a volleyball,” recounts Kalef. “I still have it to this day in my bedroom.”
By age 4, the future Ottawa Fusion player was already rallying and playing pepper with his father. Constant support from his dad, who accompanied him to all his high school games and beach volleyball tournaments, propelled Kalef to one of the top local players.
“For him to put all that effort in and all that positive vibe, it really helped my success,” highlights the 5’9” libero who first cracked the Team Ontario lineup last year. “For me, it was a huge accomplishment making the team as an under-ager and as a small player. Small people aren’t really looked at as volleyball players.”
Making the provincial team again this season was especially meaningful since it came in a Canada Games year.
“It’s really a great honour to be on this team since there are only 14 athletes (from Ontario) going to this event,” underlines the Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School student headed into his senior year.
Max St-Denis began playing volleyball competitively 6 years ago, but it was during his 15-and-under season with the Ottawa Mavericks that he realized he had a future in the sport.
Coming into provincials ranked 10th, his team played with all their passion and heart to eventually win the tournament, he recalls.
“I was really pumped,” adds Max, whose father Frank was their coach at the time. “That’s what made me think, ‘OK, I got a shot at this and I think I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”
Playing with his older brother for his entire career has been a treat, and sharing the Canada Games experience together will be a particularly unique opportunity, adds Max.
While Alex enjoys the spotlight with the big left-side kills, setter Max is content making it possible.
“I like my position,” indicates the 6’1” 16-year-old. “It’s probably the most influential position to play because you get to touch the ball most often.”
Though the St-Denis’ parents were beach volleyball partners, the fact that their kids play different positions wasn’t part of their master plan. Max and Alex would like to replicate what their father has achieved as a coach – being part of the men’s national team program.
“That’s been my dream since I started playing volleyball,” states Alex, headed to CEGEP de l’Outaouais before a planned university volleyball career in the Quebec conference. “But if I don’t accomplish that, I’d like to give back to the community.”
Teammates and OFSAA champions under their father’s watch at Louis-Riel high school, the St-Denis bros tell a similar tale to Kalef’s when it comes to their roots in the sport.
“We all pretty much experienced the same thing,” Alex notes. “The first time I touched a volleyball was when I was a little kid.”
Having played together for many years, the pair have developed a sort of “psychic connection” on the court.
“It’s a cool thing because not every brothers get a chance to play on the same team, especially on a provincial team,” underlines Alex, this year’s Ken Davies Memorial Award recipient as the male player who best demonstrates determination, leadership, athletic ability, sportsmanship and fair play in all of Ontario. “This is a huge honour and accomplishment for our family.”