Pakmen 18U dominate Nittany Ninvitational

By DAVID WINER

Sometimes the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

In the case of the Mississauga Pakmen, the difference has elevated their level of play from good to great.

Entering the 2014-15 indoor volleyball season the 18u men’s team was expected to be a contender. What’s resulted, however, has been nothing short of spectacular, capturing two prestigious U.S. tournaments beginning with the 64-team Boys’ Winter Championships in Chicago (Jan. 17-19), and continuing with the 25th annual Nittany Ninvitational at Penn State from Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

“Over the years our team has managed to win a number of championships,” said Pakmen co-captain Sahil Punni. “But the thing that was extremely special about the past two wins in the States is that we really came together as a team. “In Chicago, before heading into the day three playoffs, coach Mike (Albert) allowed us to have a players’ only meeting where we discussed any problems, or concerns we had about our team’s play, habits, or anything we felt we needed to change,” said the 6-foot-2 Libero.

“After this meeting, our team completely changed. We became very close, our chemistry on the court was better than ever, and we began playing loose and free because we knew, even if we made a mistake, our (teammates) would have our back. This resulted in us winning the championship, because we were able to close out close games. The attitude of playing free continued on at Penn State, and in my opinion, is the single most important reason we went undefeated in the United States over two high calibre tournaments.”

The Mississauga Secondary School student, who has been on the team from its inception six years ago, said there weren’t any cliques, or selfish play among the players. “It was more about taking everything we do seriously, whether it be at practice, in between games, or on the court. We realize it is our last year in the OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association) and we understand we have a great team, if we don’t want provincial and national championships to slip out of our hands due to us not taking things seriously.”

Assistant coach Renato Zanchetta seemed just as pumped as Punni. “This is a huge win,” he said, adding, ” It’s only the second time an OVA 18U team has ever won two USAV tournaments in the same year. The wins are firsts for Pakmen 18U.” Seeming to echo what Punni perceived resulted from the team meeting, Zanchetta added, “The players never gave up. Their determination simply grew with every match, win or lose. Our team ramped up their intensity as the momentum shifts ocurred in our favour, while it seemed that the last days’ opponents could not match the same determination and drive.”

The Pakmen closed out the tournament with a come-from-behind, 21-25, 25-18, 15-11 victory over the No. 2 seed, Rochester Pace Bootleggers. While the Pakmen were winning in Chicago two weeks earlier, the Bootleggers were triumphant at the Can Am tournament in Rochester.

In earlier playoff action, the team defeated Smash 18 from Newton, Massachusetts, 18-25, 25-18, 15-7, BRYC 18 National from Springfield, Virginia, 28-26, 29-27, and the Southtowns from Buffalo, 28-26, 29-27. In pool play, the Pakmen defeated 2 Rivers Red from Chesterfield, Virginia 25-21, 25-19; First Capitol USA from Pennsylvania, 25-19, 25-13; Nittany Elite Volleyball Club from Plain City, Ohio, 25-16, 25-11; and Vanguard Elite Black, from Columbus, Ohio, 25-17, 25-16.

Other members of the champion Pakmen are Zachery Albert, Pradeep Bhogal, Ethan DelCarmen-Ellison, Kenneth Dobson, Craig Ireland, Stephen Kary, Andrew Kos, Toure Nwakwesi, Shaunak Pandit, Amandip Rakkar, Gurjot Sidhu and Dale Towe.