Pakmen 16u girls make club history at provincials

By DAVID WINER
Whether it’s walking on the moon, or flying solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, being first at something means you will forever be remembered.
While the Mississauga Pakmen 16u girls volleyball team won’t be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade down Hurontario Street, they will, like Neil Armstrong and Charles Lindbergh, have a place in history.
The Pakmen assured themselves sports immortality by capturing the 16u Girls Ontario Championships over the weekend (April 10-12) at Waterloo’s RIM Park.
While the club has been represented by several boys’ champions, a trophy has always evaded the club’s girls — until now.
Going head-to-head against Burlington Hurricanes Black in the gold medal match, with a berth at the Canadian Championships in Calgary on the line, the Pakmen cruised to victory on Sunday with a 25-8, 25-14 victory.
“This is very special to me,” said returning player Julia Weircigroch, “because this success proves that Pakmen doesn’t only have the best boys in the province, but the girls are also a real force to be reckoned with. We are very proud to be the first Pakmen girls’ team that has finished the tournament with golden hardware.”
Teammate Caitlin Le echoed Weircigroch’s excitement. “Our team made Pakmen history!” said an elated Le, who along with Tristan Peterson, Annette Kowara, Madison Ro and Weircigroch, were returning members. “Since none of us have ever experienced winning Provincials in our volleyball careers, the victory was definitely a memorable one. It gives us even more motivation to maintain this title for the seasons to come.”
Sweet music for first-year coach Tyler Robinson, who earned the respect on all nine players from day one. “I’m happy for the girls that they can lay claim to that,” said Robinson, after being informed of the feat by club president and founder Kelly Smith.
“When Kelly told me we were the first girls’ Pakmen team to win, it was icing on the cake. I was so proud of how the girls played, that it was just another notch in the belt this season.”
Robinson, a Castlebrooke Secondary School teacher, who had previously taught and coached at Rick Hansen for five years, and was the assistant for the Sheridan Bruins the past four, knew that this Pakmen team had what it took.
“Before the finals, in our pre-game huddle, I asked if any of them had won a gold at this event before, and no one had. My response was, ‘well in an hour you’ll all have one’. I’m just happy that all their hard work was validated this weekend. We could have been the 100th girls team in club history to win, but the fact that it was these girls (who were) first was all that mattered. I was happy to help them get there.”
Based on the team’s exploits this season, provincial bragging rights was no surprise for the No. 1 ranked team. The Pakmen won all five 16u tournaments entered this indoor season and added a 17u tournament championship for good measure.
Smith was elated, but hardly surprised with the news.
“I heard about Tyler a couple of years ago through a number of sources, and was delighted when we were able to get him to join our club,” said Smith. “I think Tyler is one of the best young coaches in Ontario and was not surprised his team was our first girls team to win a Provincial Championship. With coaches like Tyler now joining our girls program, we expect great things in the future.”
Robinson, however, preferred to give the players much of the credit. “Reason for the success,” says Robinson is plain and simple, “all the girls’ hard work.” “They are passionate about getting better, they work extremely hard each practice, (and) they ask questions when they are struggling.” “They have been open-minded to the new techniques and tactics they have been taught by me, they have a genuine desire to improve, and are willing to do what it takes to get to the next level.”
“Their compete level at each tournament has been fantastic, and winning is the default expectation. Bottom line is, the girls deserve all the credit.”
Wiercigroch was just as adamant in placing much of the credit back in Robinson’s lap. “Since the beginning of the season, Tyler’s goal was to best prepare us for the most important part of the year,” said Wiercigroch. “He focused on improving key skills every practice.”
And that focus was even more pronounced during championship weekend.
“Over the course of the tournament this weekend, Tyler constantly reminded us to focus on only the one game nearest to us,” added Wiercigroch. “It was his passion to win, which I believe inspired my teammates to play their hardest during every rally. Even when things weren’t going our way, Tyler was always patient and confident in our abilities to stay resilient.”
While the Pakmen’s gold medal match was a bit anti-climactic, there was plenty of excitement in the semi-final against London LVC Fire Intensity.
“We made a great comeback to win the first set, but then coughed up the second ourselves, before coming out strong in the third and taking control,” said Robinson of an eventual 25-23, 19-25, 15-8 victory. “LVC played great though, and never gave an inch. Huge credit to their team for pushing us to the brink.” “The semi final match is also always a tough match to play because you have to avoid looking ahead to potentially being in the finals,” said Robinson. “There’s also added pressure because the girls know they are so close to that gold medal match. You can’t get ahead of yourself and just need to execute. Our confidence, belief, and execution were the difference in that third set.”
Lucy Glen-Carter, the lone player to come over to the Pakmen from Leaside Lightning, admitted, “There was relief because during the regular season we were undefeated and there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver and win. Every team’s goal was to beat Pakmen.” Glen-Carter also emphasized every member of the team deserved to take a bow. “It is very special winning my first provincials, but it is more special winning with these girls. Throughout the season we have become such a close knit group and these girls are like my family. I’m very proud to be part of such an amazing club.”
Prior to defeating Aurora Storm Vortex in the quarter-finals 25-20, 25-13, the Pakmen beat Scorpions Venom 25-22, 25-18; Kitchener Predators Purple 25-12, 25-8; LVC 25-15, 25-15; Ottawa Maverick Outlaws 25-22, 23-25, 15-10; Burlington Defensa 25-19, 25-19; Durham Attack Black 25-19, 25-21; and Toronto Phoenix ’99 Flare, 25-19, 25-16.
Other members of the championship team include former Georgetown Impact players, Alicia Lam, Beth Rohde and Angela Henein.