Pakmen celebrate after a dozen medals at Provincials

  • May 16, 2024

By DAVID WINER

Ten clubs celebrated victory at the 2024 OVA Ontario Championships, but only one club could consider itself party central.

While some established big name clubs struggled, the Pakmen Volleyball Club harvested a bountiful crop of medals in the seven divisions up for grabs climbing the podium a dozen times, while just missing out on another couple of medals with fourth-place showings.

Shining the brightest with glowing gold medal performances were the 13U and 16U girls and 13U and 18U boys.

It was a memorable showing for the 18U boys at Waterloo’s RIM Park.

After a disappointing loss at Provincials last year, Pakmen were teetering on another disappointing defeat against the Halton Hurricanes in the gold medal match. Pakmen swept the first two sets 25-17, 25-22, only to lose the next two sets 22-25 and 24-26. But, under the helmsmanship of long-time head coach Jessy Satti Pakmen rallied to win the final set 15-12.

“It was a very tough match, going right down to the end of the fifth set,” said Satti.  “We played a skilled team that had a lot of energy and played a great match.

“I was really happy for the boys; they totally deserved winning this,” added Satti. “They had a tough loss at Provincials last year and I know all the guys were looking forward to making up for that this time around. It’s never easy being the favorite and the No. 1 seed going into the tournament. We definitely felt the pressure at moments, but I’m proud of how the team found ways to recover and play great.

“The competition seems to get better every year and players are developing a lot,” added Satti, who has amassed the best coaching record in the sport. “It becomes harder and harder each year to win, but I’m proud of the fact that Pakmen has continued to be the top performing club.”

In earlier playoff action, Pakmen defeated Phoenix Flare 3-0 (25-19, 25-9, 25-22) in the quarter finals and Ottawa Mavericks 3-1 (25-18, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19) in the semi-finals.

It’s been a spectacular season for the Pakmen, who have won four tournaments, including two of the three major events they’ve entered this indoor season, including the OVA Grand Prix in March and the just completed OVA championships.

And Satti points to the team’s cohesiveness for its biggest strength.

“The core of the team has been together since the team’s early days (12U-14U). And, nine of the 13 players played on the team last season, so the team has good depth and a strong understanding of the game.

“We play a very team oriented style of volleyball,” added Satti. “Our setters are great at distributing the ball and we have a lot of strong attackers. Our passing and defense is strong so we can be challenging to beat. Everyone had great performances overall.”

Members of the championship team include Satti, assistants Dave McAllister and Danny La, and players Marc Lihet, Wil Basilio, Matthew Mowbray, Parker Ocampo, Chris Tautrims, Brecken Morrrison, Danilo Borcic, Luka Minic, Justin Low-Ring, Matthew McCarvell, Justin Holland, Tian Harcevic and Agam Minhas.

Pakmen will look to add National gold to their collection May 20-22.

Unlike the 18U boys, who had to scratch and claw right to the end, the Pakmen 13U girls were the class of their age group, rarely losing a set, never mind a match.

Season’s record for the Andrew Rutter team — 28 matches won, 0 lost.

That streak continued in the OVA championships, winning all nine of their matches, including a 25-17, 25-11 win over Caspian Cyclones in the quarters; a 25-18, 17-25, 15-8 victory over Durham Rebels Falcons in the semis; and a 25-13, 21-25, 15-4 decision over Kitchener Waterloo Phantoms in the final.

This championship celebration came on the heels of victories at the OVA Provincial Cup, OVA Challenge Cup, 14U OVA Challenge Cup, OVA McGregor Cup, OVA Bugarski Cup, Milton Edge Invitational, Durham Rebels Winter Chill Invitational, and the Durham Rebels Spring Thaw Invitational.

“I believe having continued success throughout the season came from a variety of factors,” said Rutter. “It began with having 12 strong athletes to train with and encouraging each other. Scrimmaning against each other on a weekly basis kept our players motivated and improved their mindset.

“Mental strength training on a weekly basis with a focus on things like courage, goal-setting and resilience enabled us to step up as a group in the more competitive environments throughout the season and through multiple three-set matches at the Provincials.

“And another reason for our success was training for two hours, three times a week, along with optional High Performance training on Sundays. These sessions provided advantages in terms of overall development, ball control and volleyball IQ that may not have been as readily available with players on other clubs. In addition to on-court training,” said Rutter, “we also participated in many team bonding activities including team dinners, watching University Volleyball matches, laser tag, bowling and game nights, to help develop and maintain strong relationships.”

The team bonding exercises were important considering eight of the 12 team members came from three different Pakmen squads from the previous season and four other team members came from other programs.

“All of our athletes bonded quickly, creating a strong sense of community throughout the season,” said Rutter.

Winning all the matches, however, didn’t come without some cringe worthy moments.

“The Falcons posed a difficult challenge at times due to their unique defensive approach,” explained Rutter of their semi-final match. “We needed to make some adjustments to our offensive mindset in order to solve their unique and varied defensive styles.

“The Phantoms have a few very gifted offensive players that they can keep on the court the entire match.

This posed a defensive challenge for us. However, with a few adjustments, we were able to position ourselves to get several impactful blocks and digs to help gain a physical and mental advantage.”
But Rutter knew this was going to be a special season early on.

“As the season progressed and our athletes made strides in their development, coach Kelly Sinclair and I began to realize the strength and depth we had as a team and that an Ontario Championship might be a realistic goal.

“However, we had not seen a couple teams prior to Provincials at all or within the triple-ball format. Furthermore, with the structure of the championships and the high level of competition on all three days, we understood the importance of taking it one match, one set, and one point at a time. When the ball landed in on that final attack in the third set of the gold medal match, there was so much excitement and celebration from all the athletes. Knowing that the championship was won through an overall team and group effort was the most rewarding feeling for us coaches.”

The gold medal team members coached by Rutter and Sinclair include, Kayleigh Sinclair-Killackey, Sophia Li, Marcela Nikonowicz, Helen Yuan, Katie Rutter, Ella Wittemund, Tasneem Chowdhury, Spring Shen, Rosie Igbinovia, Melania Saluchok, Jaiden Alves and Lily Dick.

While Rutter and his staff knew at an early stage this was going to be a special indoor season, 16U girls coach Jeff Chung had a more up and down campaign peaking at just the right time.

“A highlight of our season was winning the Grand Prix in late February,” said Chung, who has both university and professional coaching experience. “We were in the premier division all season and consistently in the top four while capturing a couple of bronze medals. Chemistry came together for us when we executed well to win the Grand Prix; a two-day event in preparation for the Ontario Championships.”

Chung feels depth in numbers was key to the team’s progressive growth.

“Our staff always believed in having a full roster of 12 so that we could develop as a unit while challenging each other on a nightly basis,” he explained. “We challenged the girls to push one another believing that they must learn how to play with one another. That was a challenging feat at first due to the five new team members. But we believed a deep roster would allow us to develop more players which in turn would create a healthy atmosphere of internal competition as we prepared for our opponents.

“WE before ME,” was a philosophy we worked on, on a weekly basis. Thinking about the bigger picture, the whole, the team…and the importance of the combination of all individuals for the greater good.
“To stay in the moment and not think too far ahead. Enjoy the present, and patiently strive for the 1 per cent each night.”

Placing second in pool play to a strong Durham Attack team, Pakmen kept their composure going undefeated on day two against Kitchener Predators, Windsor South County Bandits, and Scarborough Titans Arsans.

On day three the Pakmen defeated Hamilton Smash Nitro 2-0 in the quarters, Halton Hurricanes 2-0 in the semis and Durham Attack 2-0 for the gold.

“Durham Attack really pushed us as they were entering the gold medal match feeling confident after beating us in pool play,” said Chung. “But, we fought hard and prevailed 27-25. In the second set we may have deflated their momentum with a very close opening set and won confidently with solid serving pressure.”

“Winning is always special. A luxury in fact! Gold medals are few and far between. And when you achieve that goal with well rounded athletes, a dedicated coaching staff and supportive parents, it makes for a memorable season.

“Personally, I was overwhelmed with emotion as we knew we had to blend our new members’ skill sets, personalities and expectations towards the system, the Pakmen way.

“I don’t think we were the favorites, but we did believe we could do great things if we focused on the present. I’m glad we did that collectively.

“The journey towards our destination made it that much more special. Everyone wants the gold, but this season the ups and downs really challenged us to grow, persevere, mature, bond, remain humble and all this made it extra rewarding!”

Members of the gold medal winning team co-coached by Chung and Tea Vukovic and assisted by Robert Zee, include Maya Boutanos, Kaleya Ilao, Yvona Dimitrova, Sonia Wojnicki, Alexandra Brenner, Louelle Miller, Logan Hamilton, Ava Chung, Evelen He, Sydney Rocca Jolie Liu and Kate Chipman.

Pakmen will finish their indoor season in Edmonton at the Nationals.

Carol Onate’s 13U boys squad had a season the majority of players can only dream of.

While tested occasionally, the Pakmen never lost a match, or tournament throughout the season winning 58 of their 64 sets on the way to a perfect 29-0 match record.

“It was very emotional when we scored the final winning point,” said Onate. “I was grateful to have my family there to share in the moment. An immense sense of pride came over me for these players when they won. They worked hard, stuck together and it showed. This team will go in the record books for me, an undefeated season!”

Club director Kelly Smith was proud of all his coaches’ Performances throughout the tournament, especially Onate.

“This is Carol’s second year coaching at our club, but she has many years of coaching experience at the club and university level,” said Smith. “Carol has a very technical understanding of volleyball, she understands development well and the importance of the primary skills of the game.”

On the way to a perfect 9-0 record at Provincials, Pakmen won 18 of their 20 sets.

In the playoffs, Pakmen swept FCVC Sumac 24-15, 25-3 in the quarters; prevailed 14-25, 25-15, 15-9 over Toronto Thunderbolts Smash in the semi-finals; and swept Venom Havoc in a hard-fought nailbiter in the final 25-23, 26-24.

“There were many moments where we were challenged as a team,” said Onate. “There were a handful of games we were down by six or nine points. I always believed and encouraged them to play their best volleyball every time they were on the court and they didn’t disappoint. On the rare occasion I had to call a timeout, the players managed to turn things around, stay calm and prevail.

“The final match was probably the most anticipated game,” added Onate. “We had never met Venom Havoc before and they had a similar record leading up to the finals. I was sent a highlight reel of their best plays earlier that month and I was looking forward to the potential match up. The games were very close, almost point for point. Both teams showed great skill. I look forward to the future of volleyball in Ontario.”

Asked if watching her opponent’s highlight reel had any bearing on the team’s preparation for the match, Onate said, “It didn’t change my mind of my team’s capabilities against them. Everyone looks great in a highlight reel!”

After all, Pakmen’s season entering the Ontario championships, included one highlight after another.
After sweeping the Provincial Cup and the Challenge Cup earlier in the season without losing a set, things got a little trickier at the MacGregor Cup. But, after losing a set in the semi-final against the Wildcats Lions, Pakmen quickly regrouped and won the third set before prevailing over Pakmen Black for the gold medal.

Onate’s Pakmen showed their utmost resilience in the final tournament leading up to the Provincials, the Bugarski Cup.

“We knew it was going to be a battle no matter who we played,” said Onate.

Her prediction proved true as Pakmen were extended to third sets in three of their matches before finally prevailing.

Onate felt strong competition within the team was the players’ greatest strength.

“With FairPlay as a goal, I was able to put two strong teams together,” explained Onate. “Those teams remained consistent for the duration of the season.

“It allowed the players to have a good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and it allowed them to create a chemistry on the court. As a team, we practiced three times a week, which allowed for growth and development.

“My plan from the beginning was to create an environment that allowed the players to have fun, work hard, play with freedom, challenge each other, and hold each other accountable. Very rarely were any players absent. I think they enjoyed being at practice as much as I did. Playing in two 14U tournaments and the 14U Provincials taught us a lot about what type of team we want to be. Playing good volleyball is always the end result, even with the losses.”

And the Pakmen enjoyed the indoor campaign to such a degree, the players don’t want the season to end.

“We are playing in a US tournament in June,” said Onate. “We wanted to keep going! A few of the players will also be playing in the beach circuit this summer.

“I look forward to seeing these players at tryouts in September!”

Members of the championship team coached by Onate and assistant Don Tsung, include Brandon Tsung, Dmitry Panasiouk, John Fao-anan, Damian Valentin,  Nathan Ojero, Zi Lu, Edison Onate, Lucca Arminio, Theo Wittemund, Tyson Mancini, Matthew Skopek and Ayaan Rahmen.