With the goal of a provincial medal evident from the very start of an impressive season, the Northern Chill U-16 Girls travelled to Waterloo last weekend for the Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA) championships.
Entering the tournament ranked 27th out of 74 teams, the northern girls faced their first test in the early hours of day one, battling the Durham Attack Black (ranked 22nd).
While early jitters were present in the first-set loss (12-25), the coaching staff of Craig Thomson and Amy Cliff settled their players’ nerves quickly enough, earning a tight 25-23 second-set victory, largely on the strength of outstanding passing by Alandria Czerkas and strong net play by rookie Jillian Vallier.
Going into the third set with momentum on their side, the “Comeback Kids” (as their fans have affectionately dubbed them) grounded out a 15-12 victory, despite falling behind early.
The second contest of the day saw the Chill take on the 19th-ranked Stratford Stingers. Despite some all-around strong play from Emily Sanders, the Chill fell to the Stingers in straight sets, 20-25 and 22-25.
“(We had) a few system breakdowns at the critical 20-25 point stage that cost us dearly,” Thomson said.
Closing out round robin play against the 30th-ranked Forest City Green U-15 (London), the Chill were determined to work for every point, setting in motion the progression of an epic opening set.
The evenly matched sides traded points in what, unfortunately, ended in a 30-32 first set loss for the northerners. The physical intensity of the first set, combined with the mental dismay of losing such a contest, found the young team faltering in the second set, succumbing 14-25 to a rejuvenated Forest City crew.
Despite ending day one on a losing note, the coaching staff regrouped and worked with their charges to reevaluate their goals and begin the day two Power Pools with the same commitment to success that saw the girls win a Provincial Cup silver medal earlier in the season.
Opening their pool against a determined 24th-ranked Interclub of North York, the Sudburians saw remnants of their inconsistent play from Friday, resulting in a disappointing 20-25 first-set loss.
The veteran presence of left-side hitter Amanda Kring and the defensive prowess of rookies Courtney Smith and Vallier took their southern opponents to the brink, knotting the match with a hard-fought 25-23 win.
The decisive third set brought about shouts of encouragement from the stands, as the Chill faced an early 1-7 deficit. Knocking this deficit off point-by-point on the strength of crisp combos, run by setter Kelsey Pitre, the Chill could not overcome the untimely errors, losing the set and match 13-15.
An awakening, of sorts, took place in the second match of the day, where Chill took on the 29th-ranked Halton Hurricanes Blue. With selfless play and visual sense of purpose, the girls handily took down their opponents in the first set, 25-15.
In a disappointing turn, coaches Thomson and Cliff saw the well-deserved win from the first set get canceled out with a messy 15-25 loss in the second. Utilizing the entire roster, the U-16 ladies clawed back once again, scraping out another come-from-behind win (15-12), leaving their opponents crest-fallen at the result.
The third and final match of the Power Pool draw, to determine seeding for the all-important play-off round the following day, saw the Chill take on the 26th-ranked South County Bandits.
With the adrenalin still pumping from the dramatic win in the previous match, the Chill dominated the Essex County-based Bandits 25-14 in the first set, sweeping the match with a 25-23 victory as Toni Teale proved to be the catalyst, staging a late eight-point serving run.
“I was so impressed by the compete level of the girls," Thomson said. "Manon (Duhaime) was having the tournament of the year.”
By finishing in a tie for first place in their pool the previous day, the Chill were rewarded with a rematch of a playoff match from earlier this season against the tough Ottawa Fusion (ranked 13th).
Untimely missed serves and unforced errors ultimately saw the Chill eliminated from the tournament, falling 20-25 and 19-25 to the crew from the nation's capital.
Despite the disappointment of an early playoff exit, coach Thomson offered a positive outlook and perspective for his talented and impressionable team.
“The experience learned here will pay dividends at nationals (the 2012 Canadian Open Volleyball Championship) and generally, going forward as a team," he said. "I can’t wait for nationals.”
Posted by Laurel Myers