Something of a surprise NOSSA champion in 2013 after finishing third in league play and not advancing to the city finals, the Knights entered the 2013-2014 season returning the majority of the squad that garnered some all-Ontario experience last spring.
The end result was a confident lot that captured the SDSSAA banner in a straight set win over the Lasalle Lancers and followed up with a thrilling five-set triumph over the St. Joseph Scollard Hall Bears in the NOSSA title tilt in North Bay.
"We had seen St. Joseph Scollard Hall in the final of the Lasalle tournament at the beginning of the year and it was a battle then," said Lo-Ellen head coach Kathy Sutton. "But our lineup has changed since then. It was a little unstable, at times, but had solidified by the end."
That solidification was confirmed by the OFSAA ranking committee as the Knights have drawn the No. 5 seed in the field of 20 teams.
No surprise to the girls who form the core of a Lo-Ellen team that will be hit hard by graduation this June.
"I think last year, it was more of a surprise that we were going," said Grade 12 setter Kelsey Pitre, heading to the University of Ottawa next fall.
"This year, we've been building up to this all year."
Along with the experience picked up by the Lo-Ellen athletes last March comes some valuable and helpful notes from former head coach Tom Sutton, spouse of the current bench boss.
"Tom was there last year, so it's nice to have that mentor coach sitting on the bench," said Kathy. "We have a pretty good scouting report from last year — a lot of the top-ranked teams were there."
The Gisèle-Lalonde Titans from Orleans enter the tournament as favourites, having captured the past three consecutive OFSAA AA banners. Eden High School, Essex District High School and Samuel-Genest were all among the eight quarter-finalists in 2013.
So, too, were the Lo-Ellen Park Knights. Posting a 3-1 record in pool play, the Knights advanced to the championship playoff round, but were swept aside by De La Salle, the eventual bronze medallists.
"The girls want a medal, but our issue, as it has been all year, is consistency," said Sutton. "Our serving is really tough right now, so our passing will be one of our key points."
"Things just seem to go right when we're playing well," said Pitre. "The passing is on, the setting is on, we're not making those stupid mistakes, so the energy is up. When it's not, we need to make sure that we are supporting each other."
The Knights opened play on Monday morning against the Francis Libermann (Catholic High School) Falcons from Toronto (No. 15), before tackling the Holy Trinity Titans (No. 12) from Courtice and closing out a very busy day against the No. 2 seeded Eden High School Flyers from St. Catharines.
Today, the SDSSAA representatives are closing out round-robin play against the Parkdale (Collegiate Institute) Panthers (No. 18) from Toronto, with the top two in the pool moving to the championship round, while the third- and fourth-place teams continue to the consolation quarter-finals.
The 2013-2014 edition of the Lo-Ellen senior girls volleyball team includes Annika Kalviainen, Emily McDonald, Emily Sanders, Emily Derks, Kelsey Pitre, Kaelyn Pitre, Kiana Seidel, Faith Stadnyk, Alex Veno, Hannah Malinski, Kathryn Webb, Haley Conroy, Ashley Ouellette and Paityn Fitzgerald.