Shawna Metcalf and the core of the Cambrian Golden Shield women's volleyball team have, quite likely, just one more solid shot at earning a berth at nationals.
With graduation now only one year away for much of this core, they will need to learn from their experience to date. For Metcalf, in particular, this covers a very interesting journey, one which can serve to help others who follow her path.
The 22-year-old Marymount Academy graduate has always been blessed with a natural athleticism, though there remained some question, in her youth, as to what direction it would take in developing.
"I've always been a runner," Metcalf noted. "I was always faster than the boys when I was younger. And I pretty much tried to get into anything I could."
The youngest of two girls in the family, Metcalf was initiated to volleyball relatively late, at least by the standards of those who enjoy an early passion for the sport.
In Grades 7 and 8, volleyball remained rudimentary for the Azilda native — just try to bump the ball and get it over the net. A pre-high school Kabuum Volleyball camp, primarily under the guidance of Craig Thomson, provided a base of knowledge, one which Marymount coach Tammy Jutila helped mold and take to the next level.
Initially, it didn't come easily.
"The only reason I made the (junior) team in Grade 10 was because I was athletic, tall, and I listened to what the coaches said," Metcalf said with a smile. "I was just starting to learn to serve overhand and everyone would hold their breath to see if the ball would go over."
Thankfully, Metcalf benefited heavily by falling directly into the middle of a core of fanatic young volleyball players. Surrounded by the likes of Katrina Hickey, Allison Adams and Ashley Chicquen, the Regals enjoyed a great deal of secondary school success, adding a little more focus into the mix for Metcalf.
"I just approached track, at the beginning, as two days off school," she said. "I just enjoyed being active and didn't really take it that seriously. When I got older, I started taking sports more seriously and that's when I started dropping sports."
A further metamorphosis awaited, as Metcalf combined both a stellar high school career and the competition garnered through the Northern Chill club team, moving to a whole new level, with post-secondary aspirations just around the corner.
"It was nice to see myself, each year, improve so much," she said. "Just to see yourself grow, I really enjoyed that."
Attending various camps and clinics across the province, often accompanied by Kristen Bolduc of Confederation, Metcalf was starting to get noticed, even if she was somewhat unaware.
"When I went to Prospects Canada, I wasn't even thinking about scholarships," she said. "It was just another tryout with Kristen."
Far from it. With a handful of NCAA and CIS coaches and recruiters on hand, life quickly became a blur for the northern Ontario teenager whose natural athleticism was undeniable.
Attending the camp in March of her graduating year, Metcalf received scholarship offers by April, trying to squeeze in writing her SATs, all while finishing Grade 12 at Marymount. Looking back, the whirlwind experience of those final few months of high school provided some challenges.
"If I would have done things differently, I would have gone on more official visits, really looked at the team, looked at the coach, looked at the courses," she said.
Metcalf accepted an offer to attend the University of North Florida in the fall of 2008. A regimented training routine, unlikely anything Metcalf had ever experienced, awaited the incoming freshmen — workouts three times daily in pre-season, non-stop mental and physical exercises, and punishment for those who lagged behind the norm.
"It was strictly business, almost like a job," Metcalf confessed. "I was exhausted all the time."
With hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships being doled out, Metcalf had no question or reservations about the bar being raised. In her mind, the question was finding a reasonable middle ground.
"You need to have a mix and I don't think every school is like that," she said. "You need to have a balance as a coach."
Compounding matters, her father suffered a serious mining injury in October of 2008, with the young nursing student unable to provide much support, located several thousands of miles away.
In the end, the decision to return to Canada, to join the volleyball legacy of coaches Dale Beausoleil and Mike Margarit at Cambrian, was not a difficult one.
"It was an adjustment going down there, and it was an adjustment coming back," Metcalf said.
"I had to start getting the fun back, get the laughs in with the work," she added. "I kind of lost my passion for volleyball in the States, because it was a job and I was just so exhausted all the time."
Still, Metcalf is more than ready to acknowledge the positives, returning home in the best shape of her life, adding muscle, thanks to almost daily visits to the weight room and gaining exposure to the type of mental focus that is needed to perform at a truly elite level.
While personal success came quickly for Metcalf at Cambrian, it has been the ongoing growth of the team which has provided the greatest joy.
"More than ever, we're really equals now, the ball can go to anyone," she said. "I think we're in a really good place with the team right now. We push each other."
Coming off an OCAA silver-medal performance this past winter, the Shield are pushing hard to unseat the powerful Humber Hawks in 2012-2013.
For Metcalf and her teammates, the ability to do so will come largely from learning from the lessons of the past few years.
Posted by Laurel Myers