Pakmen 13U boys dominant at OVA Ontario Championships
By DAVID WINER
The Pakmen 13U boys’ volleyball team ended their season on a high note last weekend (May 15-18).
With no National Championships scheduled for 13U teams, the Pakmen will have to wait another calendar year to compare their abundant talent and skill against the rest of the country.
But based on their performance at Waterloo’s RIM Park last week against this province’s best squads, the Pakmen are an impressive group, and they own OVA Ontario Championship gold medals to prove it.
The Pakmen won 18 of their 19 sets to go undefeated in nine matches, concluding with a straight-set 25-19, 25-18 win over Markham Wildcat Tigers in the gold medal finale.
The Pakmen began medal play on day three with a 25-6, 25-17 win over MAC in the quarters, and a 25-13, 25-22 victory over Ottawa Maverick Diamondbacks in the semi-finals.
Their only defeat came on the first day of action against Barrie Elites. Opening with straight-set wins over Waterloo Tigers Black and Milton Edge, Pakmen were tripped up by Barrie, 25-19, before responding with 25-14, 15-6 victories.
If anything, that solitary loss, followed by their comeback victory, demonstrated the team’s immense depth.
“Friday during the final match of the day, the starting line lost the first set,” explained head coach Aleksander Mamuzic. “This could have left us with a second-place finish, but the second line really pulled it together, took control of the game, and won by a large margin.”
In the 13U and 14U age groups teams compete with a fair play rule, meaning those players sitting during the first set and comprising the second line, must play in the second set.
“After a bit of a slow start on the first day,” continued Mamuzic, “there wasn’t a single ball that hit the ground uncontested. The boys have a great deal of skill, but when it came down to it, they outworked every other team in the province.”
While Mamuzic stressed that depth carried the day for the Pakmen, he had special praise for Uzair Shaikh, Matthew Rugosi and Anshul Keswani.
“Shaikh led the team offensively and scored some crucial points at the start of nearly every set; Rugosi dominated the back court taking control of nearly every free ball and getting the team some big digs; and Keswani took control of the second line always being the loudest even when the match was close, or they lost a point.”
Kenneth Mann and Lukash Darewych also excelled at key moments in Mamuzic’s eyes.
While Shaikh, Mann, Rugosi and teammate Carter Chan are relatively new to club competition, they are very familiar with the Pakmen, having followed them since they were tykes.
All four share a common bond of having siblings on older Pakmen teams.
“I have been around Pakmen volleyball for a very long time as my two older brothers Zaid (17U Pakmen Black) and Ashraf (15U Pakmen Gold) play (as setters) in higher age groups,” said Shaikh. “I got started in volleyball because of my two older brothers. They had attended David Leeder Middle School where the founder of Pakmen Kelly Smith is also a teacher. Kelly Smith had introduced the game to my brothers and also me personally. The first time I had ever played volleyball was when I was in Pakmen’s champions league in Grade 4. My brothers have been a great motivation to me as a volleyball player and also as a person. I also truly thank Kelly Smith for introducing and trusting me and my brothers in the game of volleyball.”
But watching an older brother from the stands is dramatically different than being in the thick of the action.
“This is by far the greatest highlight in my volleyball career for sure,” added the 5-foot-7 Shaikh. “Winning Ontario championships is always a player’s dream in Ontario and winning provincials in my first year in the OVA is an amazing and very humbling experience. “It feels great to be called the best 13U volleyball team in Ontario and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our coaches and parents,” added the Grade 7 David Leeder student. “Pakmen has been the most dominating club in Ontario for many years now,” said Shaikh. “Going into provincials we were very confident in ourselves, because we had superior coaching from Aleks, Harmeet (Sangha), Franco (Rugosi) and Ed (Chan). They had pushed me, and all of my teammates, to the greatest of our abilities so that we had the greatest chance to win. Also, I feel like we were the best prepared team at the tournament and that is also due to our great coaching. Before every game our team was very focused.”
And Shaikh hopes this is just the beginning of the medal count for he and his teammates.
“I plan on staying with Pakmen for my whole OVA career and try to win as many provincial and national titles as possible,” said Shaikh. “I feel like next year all of the teams in our age group will improve greatly, but me and my team feel very confident going into next year to win a provincial and national title.”
Like Shaikh, Mann was introduced to the sport by his older sibling.
“I got started in volleyball because my sister Ava plays on the Pakmen 15U team and she always needed someone to pepper with. I also developed my skills from my dad (Kevin), whose been coaching me for a couple years and I find it fun peppering with him.”
While this is also Mann’s first dip into club ball, the Burlington native did participate in summer and rep camps offered by Pakmen.
But like Shaikh, it’s one thing to cheer a brother, or sister on, it’s quite another matter to have personal success on the court.
“This has been my greatest highlight thus far,” said the Kilbride Public School student. “It was a great experience playing in provincials with my friends and teammates. Being able to participate in, and win the biggest tournament in 13U, is pretty amazing.
“We were separated from our opponents by great coaching,” added the 5-foot-2 Mann, who sees himself taking after his sister next year and playing left side. “From the beginning, Aleks has believed in us, both on bad days and on good days. Since we had two strong lineups the whole season, we were better. Both lineups won most of their matches except for a couple. He taught us to hit the ball no matter what, and our opponents just free balled it over. This is what separates us from our opponents.”
Mann also looks forward to next indoor season, saying he and his teammates had a taste of 14U play this season at a tournament where they placed third.
Mann expects he and a number of teammates will improve over the summer by playing beach volleyball.
“Also, if we make the team, we need to listen to coach Aleks,” concluded Mann. “And, if we do, we should drastically improve.”
Unlike their teammates Rugosi and Darewych have bragging rights when it comes to provincial hardware.
Darewych was also a member of last year’s 13U team that won bronze at Provincials.
“This is my greatest highlight thus far in my career,” said Darewych, who attends St. Gregory’s Catholic School in Etobicoke. “It uses to be the bronze, but gold obviously beats bronze.”
“Winning gold at the Provincials is the greatest highlight of my indoor career,” said fellow Etobicoke native Rugosi. “But I am also very proud of winning silver as an underage player at last year’s Beach Provincials.”
Indeed, Rugosi proved a quick study. Just starting beach classes last summer with the Pakmen, Matthew placed second in 13U play.
Mind you, Rugosi has some talented athletes living under the same roof to approach for advice.
Father, Franco is one of his coaches, while his other older brothers, Andrew and Peter excel at the sport, both indoor and outdoor.
“My dad played varsity volleyball and started coaching my brothers’ elementary volleyball teams when I was in Grade 2, which was five years ago,” said Matthew. “I became interested, so he started coaching me in our basement, then in the school gym with my brothers.”
The 5-foot captain, who attends Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, says the team’s indoor success could be easily explained.
“We had great technique as a result of the great coaching that we have received from Aleks, Harmeet and my dad.”
Darewych also looked to his dad for motivation.
“My dad is a big volleyball player. Sometimes I would go watch him play. After watching a couple of times I fell in love with the game. Then I decided to go tryout for Pakmen,” said the 5-foot-4 Darewych, who says consistency was the team’s key to success in Waterloo.
“Consistency is what separated Pakmen from our opponents. Consistency is a result of better talent, better preparation and superior coaching.
“I am 100 per cent sure we will win the Canadian championships next season,” said Darewych. “We just have to concentrate more during practices and not fool around. It is very important to practice like you would in a game. Remember to learn from your mistakes.”
Darewych certainly has Rugosi on board, who says he is even more motivated after hearing what Mamuzic had to say about his dominating the back court.
“Hearing coach Aleks compliment me that way makes me feel really good and it makes me want to train harder so that I continue to get stronger,” added Rugosi crediting, “good ball control and passing,” along with, “quick reaction time and reading skills,” for his success.
“By looking at the hitter, his approach and his spiking arm, I have a good sense of where the ball is going to go.”
One senses the only direction this Pakmen squad is going to go in the future, is up.
Other members of the gold medal team include Benjamin Zhang, Airen Torres, Liam Thomas, Robert Spataru, Abinesh Ravendra and Michael Agueci.