Pakmen 15U boys are Volleyball Canada champions

 

15U PAKMEN BOYS

Mississauga Pakmen 15U boys must have felt like the only people on the block who didn’t share in awinning $10 million lottery ticket.

Entering last month’s (April 17-19) Ontario Championships at Waterloo’s RIM Park as the favorites in their particular age group, the 15U boys were instead stymied in the final, settling for second place. Genuinely happy for the five Pakmen squads who did capture gold, they wallowed in self pity reflecting on what could have been. However, a funny thing happened between then and the Volleyball Canada Championships this past weekend (May 17-19) at the University of Calgary. Players became more focused, practices became more crisp, and long, drawn-out injuries, properly healed. So, when the 2015 Nationals concluded, it was the other Pakmen squads — three silver, and one bronze medalist — who looked on in envy at the club’s lone gold medalists, who won all nine of their matches, culminating in a 25-20, 25-17 victory over NOOKS from Sturgeon County, near Edmonton.

“My guys were devastated after Provincials,” reflected 15U head coach Jessy Satti. “Being ranked No. 1 going in, and having an amazing month of practices leading up, and then to lose the way we did, the guys were very disappointed.” As was the case at the Nationals, the Pakmen were also undefeated at the Provincials until they met up with arch nemesis Durham Attack Black in the final. Winning the opening set, 25-17, the Pakmen proceeded to drop back-to-back sets, 22-25, 12-15. But as devastating as that loss to Durham was, it enabled the players to focus on one solitary goal. “The hard work these guys put in after Provincials really showed at Nationals,” said Satti. “I think, that was the sweetest part of it all. Their hard work finally paid off on the grandest stage.”

Despite being a true team effort, three players were rewarded with individual honors. Saad Shaikh and Matthew Cheung were named all-stars, and Matthew Powell, was touted the tournament’s most valuable player. “Our big middle (Powell) had a tough time at Provincials,” explained Satti. “He was out for six weeks due to a broken hand, so at Provincials, he wasn’t himself. But at Nationals, he was amazing, hitting the ball with confidence and blocking the ball. He also played fantastic defence and was our best server. “He was named MVP of the tournament, and he deserved it. He was definitely the most dominant player.”

But Satti points out, the team couldn’t have won on Powell, Cheung and Shaikh’s contributions alone. A cohesive team was needed to take on, and eventually defeat the best teams in the country. “The guys improved a ton since Provincials,” said Satti. “Every practice, leading up to Nationals, was intense and taken very seriously. “At Provincials, we didn’t pass the ball very well and we weren’t able to use the middle attack much,” explained Satti. “At Nationals, our passing was amazing and our middle attack was almost unstoppable. We totally transformed as a team, and it was a direct reflection on how we practiced leading up to Nationals; practicing with intensity and confidence.”

From one player move, to the next, the first-year indoor coach appeared like a master tactician with his players succeeding with every opportunity given. “Every guy on the team played amazing,” said Satti. “Whenever I put somebody in, they performed great, and that was amazing to see as a coach. It shows how deep our team is. If a guy struggled, the next guy came in and did his job. Sometimes guys get nervous, especially in an environment like Nationals. It didn’t mean they were playing badly, but sometimes they needed a breather. So every time I put a new guy in, he played with confidence and contributed.” Satti needed all hands on deck earlier in the tournament against Calgary’s Canuck Black. After dropping their only set of the entire tournament, 23-25, the Pakmen rallied with successive 25-20, 15-5 wins. “It’s kind of funny, because Canuck Black was the only team we dropped a set against, yet in the beginning, my assistant Ed Chan and I felt that it was the best volleyball these guys have ever played. “The beginning of the first set the guys were amazing,” added Satti. “They did everything right and were leading most of the match. I have to give credit to Canuck Black. They started digging all of our hits and putting a ton of pressure on us, and we let the first set slip away. I considered it our toughest match because, at that point, the boys were battling themselves, nerves were taking over and the fear of losing was starting to (creep) through their minds. But, after that win, the boys realized that they were their own worst enemies. When they played with confidence they knew they could beat anyone.”

While it was Satti’s first indoor national title as a coach, he is no stranger to success having played on Pakmen’s 18U national championship team in 2008. Satti also serves as the organization’s beach volleyball coach, having headed up over a dozen provincial and national titles over the past six years. One of his most successful beach players is Shaikh, a two-time provincial beach champion in 13 and 14U play. The team’s captain, Shaikh took losing at the indoor Provincials hard like the rest of his teammates.

“Losing Provincials was not easy knowing we worked so hard every day to win,” said the Grade 9 Mississauga Secondary School student. “We were confident going in to Provincial finals, but we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. “As the captain, I believed it was my responsibility to regroup my boys and make them forget the tough loss,” added the 6-foot setter. “We knew we still had a chance to be the best, by winning Nationals. We all wanted to win so bad, so we promised each other that we would practice hard for each other because we respect each other. And, with great coaching, and hard work, we were very confident going into Nationals. We treated that trip like it was business we had to take care of, and that’s exactly what we did. Going 9-0 the whole tournament and playing every game with energy and fire that made us feel no one could even get close to us in a game.” Having a day, or two, to reflect on their success, Shaikh added, “Being a National champ is an amazing feeling. Not everyone can call themselves a National champ and it feels better because I did it with my brothers and amazing coaches.” Fellow all-star and Mississauga Secondary School teammate Cheung was also in a celebratory mood days after winning. “The feeling of winning gold after losing Provincials felt awesome,” said the 6-foot left side. “It was one of the happiest days I’ve ever had, honestly, because I felt like we redeemed ourselves after our loss at Provincials. “I feel, the difference between Provincials and Nationals, in my opinion, was our team’s character. We were all there for each other in the huddle when we lost a point, and never got down on each other when a mistake was made.”

Other members of the National champions, include, Avy Bath, Gurnoor Bath, Calvin Chong, Thomas Williams, Martin Matov, Ricky Ahmed, Vikas Ravendra, Alec Dragnea, Arjun Selhi and Brendan Chan.

In other playoff action, the Pakmen defeated Edmonton’s Fog Extreme 25-8, 25-22 in the quarter-finals, and Toronto’s PVB Patriots, 25-15, 25-12 in the semi-finals. Other wins came against Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves of Alberta, Providence Junior Pilots from Manitoba, the Tommies from Fredericton, New Brunswick, St. Paul Rage from St. Vincent, Alberta, and Focus Blur, from Surrey, B.C. There were many more medals to go around for Pakmen teams in Calgary, just not of the gold variety. The 16U and 17U boys’ teams, both gold medalists at the Provincials, struck for silver, as did the 17U girls, while the 16U girls returned home bronze medalists.

17U PAKMEN BOYS

“An absolute heart-breaker,” is how head coach Orest Stanko described his team’s final indoor tournament of the year. Having won 17 straight sets, it all came off the rails in the gold medal match against Alberta’s Canuck Dinos. After winning the opening set 25-13, the Pakmen let a lead slip away in the second set, eventually losing, 23-25, 12-15.

“Following a dominating first-set performance, we started the second set in the same fashion, and appeared to be in control and poised for a two-set victory and the championship,” explained Stanko. “Unfortunately, we made some unforced errors late in the set and lost our composure. More critically, the Dinos now had momentum heading into the third and deciding set. (And) in that third set, we simply ran out of steam. On the other hand, the Dinos played error-free, demonstrated greater resolve, and closed out the match on the heels of three consecutive serves from their leading outside hitter and eventual tournament MVP.”

While Stanko was upset with some of the officiating in the second set when, “We were the victims of three critical officiating errors that cumulatively translated to a six-point swing,” he added, “We still were in a position to win, but failed to close out the match in two sets. By the end of set three, the Dinos were by far the more energized and motivated team.”

The Pakmen knocked off a couple of Ontario sides leading up to the final, besting the Maverick Desperados and Storm Lightning in the quarter- and semi-finals respectively. Earlier, the Pakmen defeated NOOKS of Alberta, NAVC Green Bears of Alberta, the Predators of Ontario, ACVC Steel of Alberta, Leaside Thunder and Canada West Giants of Alberta.

“Hopefully, losing the 17U final will represent a significant motivating factor for the athletes as they embark on their final year of club volleyball and prepare for their post-secondary academic and athletic careers,” said Stanko. “This is a very talented group of individuals, and it has been a privilege to work with all of the athletes, getting to know them as individuals. “It goes without saying that I am exceedingly proud of everyone on the team,” he added. “I have also been reminded that it is not just about the winning. The measure of success is not necessarily based on your medal count.”

Stanko was touched by a parent on the Canada West team, who e-mailed him after a 25-11, 25-8 result. “The comments (were) very poignant and certainly helped to mitigate the pain of losing. (And it shows) this is a very special group of athletes, not to mention an extremely supportive group of parents.”

The email started off saying, “I just wanted to say that my son’s team (Canada West) played your U17 team at Nationals yesterday. I’m just sending a quick note to compliment your team on a game well played. There are a lot of talented players on that team, for sure! But more importantly, I was very impressed at how well-mannered and classy your players are. At no time did they show any arrogance or superiority, despite the fact that they led and won by a large margin. Kudos to the team and the coach, I was very impressed as were the other parents on our team.”

16U PAKMEN BOYS

Much like the 17U Pakmen, the 16U boys won all their matches heading into the gold medal match, but in more difficult fashion. While sweeping the Markham Wildcats, the Junior Sundogs of Saskatchewan, the Kitchener Waterloo Predators, Markham Stingers and the Canucks out of Alberta in the quarters, the Pakmen were stretched to three sets, four times.

The CAKVC Kings of Alberta, the Win Man Crush of Manitoba, Ontario’s Maverick Longhorns in the semi-finals, and BC Force in the championship final. Like their 17U brethren, the Pakmen opened the final match with a 28-26 win, only to lose 25-23, 15-8. “I think both teams played an equal amount of sets. Force went to a lot of third sets as well. However, our semi-final was a tougher match than theirs,” said Pakmen coach Aleksander Mamuzic. “Both teams played very well, they just got a few key points in the third set that gave them that extra bit of momentum.” And like Stanko, Mamuzic couldn’t say enough about his charges, who won Ontario gold. “I’m extremely proud of my boys,” he said. “This is the best season they have ever had and they really earned it. I think they finally understand what it takes to be champions. There is always improvement to be made, but they are definitely on the right track.”

17U PAKMEN GIRLS

Having won silver at the Provincials, after losing to the 16U Pakmen in the final, the 17U Pakmen captured more silver in Calgary. Having defeated BC Force 25-22, 25-16 in the quarters and Ontario’s Phoenix Legacy 25-19, 25-23 in the semis, the Pakmen succumbed to Durham Attack Black in the gold medal finale, 19-25, 25-17, 13-15.

“Durham Attack, is a team that we have faced several times throughout the year. And, regardless of the venue, these matches were always intense and very close,” said 17U coach Pat Daniels.

“Early in the first set we were making some uncharacteristic errors, probably due to nerves, and fell out of reach losing 19-25. It was the first set we lost all weekend, but it didn’t seem to cause too much alarm. The girls actually rebounded with one of their better sets in the tournament, and won 25-17.

“This set up yet another tiebreak game between these two rivals,” added Daniels. “We had the lead at the turn, but the lead was never more or less than a couple points either way. It was great volleyball and Durham was able to make a couple more plays than us. In the end, they won the tiebreak 15-13 and that is really how close these two teams have played all year. It is really exciting to watch these two teams, and unfortunately, we have to wait until next season to see it again. I am sure both squads will go through some changes, but I believe the competitive battles will continue all through next season and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the final match for 18U Nationals.”

Despite the loss, Daniels couldn’t be happier with the way the season progressed. “This was an amazing year considering we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to assemble a team,” said Daniels. “The girls came together quickly and were so consistent all year. I am so proud of how they were able to compete at every tournament. They actually made the finals in 10 out of 11 tournaments and almost half of those were at U18. We had lots of gold medals throughout the year, but it is the silver medals at U17 and U18 Provincials, and the silver at Nationals that will be motivation to improve for next year.”
In earlier play, the Pakmen beat Alberta Canuck 25-3, 25-0, Nova Scotia’s Truro Lynx 25-18, 25-17, Durham Attack Black 25-18, 25-23, Markham Revolution 25-22, 25-21, Ontario Defensa-Reid 25-19, 25-13, and Ontario Maverick Blackjacks, 25-14, 25-21.

16U PAKMEN GIRLS

Unlike the three silver medalists, the 16U Pakmen girls finished the year on a winning note, defeating Manitoba Dynamo for the bronze medal , 22-25, 25-20, 16-14.

Pakmen lost to eventual gold medalists, Burlington Hurricane Black in the semi-finals, 23-25, 23-25. It was the same Burlington squad the Pakmen had defeated for gold at Provincials.

“As I reflected on the semi-final match, I feel like we played panicked and a little out of control, something that we had not done all year long,” said coach Tyler Robinson. “I spent the whole match trying to calm us down rather than coaching. That being said, we had our chances still and just couldn’t make a play when it mattered. Plenty of credit goes to Halton though as they played an outstanding match from their end. I don’t take anything away from them.”

Having lost a heart-breaking semi-final, it was up to Robinson to do some of his best coaching to prepare his charges for Manitoba.

“It was almost an impossible task getting the girls back on track for the bronze,” said Robinson. “The girls were in tears and we had to play 12 minutes later. I tried to be as positive as possible, and tell them that this game mattered; that we were gonna win, because it was important to play for your teammates. I stressed that one loss didn’t define our season so let’s finish it off with a medal.” But it was going to take more than a quick pep talk over a 12-minute break to get the players ready for any color other than gold.

“We came out understandably slow so about halfway through the first set I called a timeout and said, ‘the time we are allowed to feel sorry for ourselves is over. Now, let’s play some volleyball.’ The girls were able to respond, and we started playing much better.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them for how they were able to persevere in what is the hardest match in sports to play in my opinion, the bronze medal game. We accomplished so much this year and I wouldn’t trade any of it for a gold in Calgary. I hope not winning it all makes us even hungrier next year to finish it off!”
Previous wins for the Pakmen, were against Saskatchewan CVC Cougars, Alberta SPVC Blizzard, Alberta’s Canuck Black, Saskatchewan’s Briercrest, Manitoba Junior Bison, and Durham Attack in the quarter-finals.

A preliminary round loss came against Ontario Defensa-Kevin.