Pakmen 18U Girls Capture Provincial Gold in Their Final Year
By DAVID WINER
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
There’s some disagreement on whether it was John F. Kennedy’s father Joseph, or famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne who coined the phrase, but few would disagree that the Mississauga Pakmen 18U girls delivered on toughness when it mattered most during the OVA Ontario Championships at Waterloo’s RIM Park over the weekend (April 15-17).
While managing not to lose a match in the opening two days of pool play, the Pakmen did suffer lost sets at the hands of Oakville Thunder Blue and Defensa.
Entering the championships as the No. 1 seed, doubts may have cropped up regarding the team’s mental toughness.
But all questions were put to bed when the Pakmen proceeded to sweep Oxford Crush 25-19, 25-11, Defensa of Burlington 25-11, 25-17, and Aurora Storm Vortex 25-19, 25-16 in Sunday’s championship round to claim the gold medal.
“I believe the scores on the third day are a reflection of our improved performance level over a three-day span,” said head coach Michael Albert. “By the second day, our team was becoming a cohesive (unit) on and off the court with an increased level of focus, combined with consistent execution with their individual skills and team systems.
“On the third day,” added Albert, “our team’s performance reached its peak level of the season, which is every coach’s dream.
“When our girls hit the court in the finals, there was a clear determination from all 11 players to win a championship and their months of hard work paid off with a gold medal performance.”
No gold medal comes without hard work. And hard work starts in the trenches. That is why Albert had high praise for Lauren Veltman and Kristen Burns.
“There were too many key plays from individuals to mention,” said Albert. “The final was packed with amazing plays. I will say that our middle players significantly impacted our performance level with their blocking. Their blocking improved all weekend and it was at its best in the finals. Often people watching, may not appreciate the hard work and impact they have, but their impact on the team is deeply appreciated from my perspective. Our two middle players Lauren Veltman and Kristen Burns have been steady performers all year long and they didn’t disappoint.”
“It feels really good being complimented on my blocking,” responded Veltman. “I’ve really been working on my blocking and getting my technique right and it’s great seeing the results I get from it.”
The 6-foot-3 Brampton native, who is finishing Grade 12 at Woodbridge’s Toronto District Christian High School, will attempt to be a star blocker for the Ryerson Rams in the fall.
“I do take much pride in my blocking because it’s such a rush to feel that ball hit your hands and go straight to the floor. As a middle blocker you really have to commit to your block, the set can go either way so you really have to be patient to see where the ball is set and really commit to where you’re going.”
Unlike some other players, Veltman has a history of playing in the trenches. One could say it’s in her blood. Coming from a famous lacrosse family, Lauren herself has played the sport for many years. But unlike other Veltmans, she insists, “My favorite sport, of course, is volleyball.”
And now, after a lengthy absence from atop the podium, Veltman can enjoy the sport even more.
“The last time we won a provincial championship was when I was in 14U,” recalled Veltman. “The last three years we have gotten silver — we fought so hard for three years.
“It makes it even more special that it’s our last year and we ended it with something huge. Also I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other girls. It was so special to have all these girls by my side and to be able to call them all my best friends.”
One such friend is Burns, her fellow middle.
Nearly as tall at 6-foot-2, Burns grew up in Mississauga, attended Meadowvale Secondary School and competed for the Pakmen for five of the past six years, “and have enjoyed every year.”
But Burns will make a break from Mississauga in the fall when she attends the University of New Brunswick, where she will ply her trade as a left-handed middle, “which I know is unusual.
“I believe my coaches know that our ability to block well allows the rest of the team to set up the defense around it,” said Burns. “A big block at the right time, can be the same as a kill for us. Sometimes a block can really change momentum and get the other team to start changing their offense.”
Like Veltman, Burns feels winning the OVA title in their last year together is extra meaningful.
“Coming so close the past couple of years to winning, motivated the team that much more and we worked even harder this year,” she said. “Knowing this was our last chance for the gold, really allowed us to focus and play to the best of our abilities.”
And, in a way that crystallizes how united the Pakmen have become, the team chose to celebrate the night away before disbanding on the night of the championship.
“After the medal ceremony, we all took pictures together with the coaches, each other, and our families to remember the achievement,” said Burns. “We then all went out for a team dinner to celebrate, relax and enjoy the evening.”
Other members of the celebrating team include Janelle Albert, Julia Balatbat, Emma Armstrong, Julia Krebs, Cailin Wark, Melissa Langegger, Mady Timpany, Jessica Lam, Brenna McArthur and assistant coach Pat Daniels.
They will attempt to duplicate their feat in Edmonton at the National Championships May 5-8.
“The key to Nationals is to find a way to ramp up and peak a second time,” said Albert.
“This is not an easy task, but if there’s a group of girls that can pull it off, it’s this team. They are all good friends and they are a united group of strong dynamic personalities. When you have this type of supportive team with a common goal, you can achieve amazing results.”