Pakmen dominance at Provincials comes with record performances
By DAVID WINER
The Mississauga Pakmen were so successful at the Ontario Volleyball Championships, the players earned enough medals to open, not one, but two high-end jewelry shops.
Competing the past three weekends at RIM Park in Waterloo, the Pakmen slammed the door shut on any doubts that they truly are the class of the OVA.
Entering the championships as the favorites in many of the 12 divisions contested, the Pakmen won a jaw-dropping 11 medals, including five gold.
To put such an achievement into greater perspective, only two other clubs had as many as five medals, and only the Aurora Storm, had more than one gold medal, winning two.
“I dare say the club’s success at a provincial level this particular season has been unprecedented,” said club head coach Orest Stanko. “It remains to be seen if we can continue the same degree of success at the National Championships.”
Even club founder and President Kelly Smith was caught off guard by the breadth of the the club’s success. “This is the most incredible OVA season in our club’s history — and maybe in OVA history,” said Smith, who seemed overwhelmed by the prospect that, “All boys teams medaled in Tier 1 in every division.”
In so doing, a number of OVA records were set along the way.The 17U boys were the first to win an 18U title; the 17U and 18U Pakmen became the first two teams from one club to compete in an 18U final; and the 16U and 17U girls duplicated the feat in the 17U girls championship.
All accomplishments were beyond Smith’s wildest dreams when he formed the club back in 2002. Then, and now, Smith’s vision was to create Canada’s largest and most diverse youth volleyball club, with players and staff from all socio-economic, ethnic and cultural groups, as well as players and staff with special needs.
And each, and every year, the club has continued to grow and improve.
“Special credit must be given to Kelly, who spares no effort and resources to providing athletes with access to additional, specialized and personal training opportunities with such outstanding coaches as Dustin Reid and Jeff Chung,” said Stanko. “In short, the athletes have access to outstanding coaching.”
Stanko, who has only served in the capacity of club head coach the past seven months, added the key to constant improvement is, “the club has attracted outstanding coaches who selflessly dedicate their time to working with the athletes.” “It has been extremely exciting to be a part of the incredible success that we have had as a club,” added the former illustrious head coach of the University of Toronto Blues. “And based on what I have observed, there is no reason for us not to be optimistic about the future.”
That future will include tinkering with his duties, “to maximize the contribution that I can make to all of the teams in all of the age categories. We will be better prepared next season, and I am confident that we can continue to be successful and even surpass our accomplishments to date.”
“Attracting more quality coaches, especially women, is a key priority,” added Stanko. “Our objective should be to have a minimum of two coaches per team — a head coach and an assistant. We especially need to attract more female coaches. Ideally, every Pakmen girls’ team should have, at a minimum, one female coach on staff.”
Pat Daniels, the club’s 17U Gold girls’ coach, is exceedingly proud of both his team’s silver-medal performance, as well as the club’s overall showing.
“It is exciting to see all of the success throughout the club,” he said. “Not only are the boys continuing to get amazing results, but I am proud to see that the girls are also having great success. It just seems to make it a more complete family when the success is spread out over both genders and across so many age divisions.”
Daniels said he witnessed a club camaraderie at the provincial championships when Pakmen supporters from other teams would cheer his girls on.
“Coaching the 17U Pakmen Gold team at the last two Ontario Championship weekends (17U and 18U), we had a lot of support from many of the Pakmen boys, and our girls also loved to go watch and support the Pakmen boys’ teams. Pakmen Nation was strong and well for a number of years, but it feels like it is even getting stronger, and it is an awesome feeling to be part of it.”
Tyler Robinson, the two-time gold medal winning coach of the 16U girls, preferred to envision the successes Pakmen players will have down the road.
“It’s nice to win obviously,” said Robinson. “The overall success of the club will bring (greater fame) and hopefully more athletes will want to join. However, winning at this level is secondary to development in my mind. I think as a club, we want to be able to claim we are placing kids on the National Team, being OUA/CIS all-stars, making provincial teams, etc. If we continue to develop our athletes, which I think we are doing a very good job of, we will truly be successful.”
One of Robinson’s players, Julia Wiercigroch, is certainly grateful for the club’s coaches and how they have had a dramatic affect on her young career.
“I feel extremely proud to be a part of one of the best volleyball clubs in the country,” she said. “I remember when I first picked up a volleyball, not knowing how to bump or volley. I find myself where I am today because of Pakmen’s ability to bring out the best volleyball in every player. I am honored to play alongside hard-working, determined athletes, in a club that happens to be known for its countless successes.”
The pride is also felt by teammate Caitlin Le. “It is a privilege to be part of such an amazing club with success from both boys’ and girls’ teams” she said. “Personally, I feel very honored to be wearing a Pakmen jersey every time I step onto the court. All the players and coaches associated with this organization should have their heads up high.”
Another 16U girls’ team member, Lucy Glen-Carter echoed Wiercigroch’s and Le’s sentiments. “It feels great to be part of a successful club, mainly because I’m proud of how hard all Pakmen athletes work to be the best of the best,” she said. “Each team has coaches who have the team’s best interest in mind and they push their players to work their hardest.” And Glen-Carter believes winning, breeds more winning. A contagious feeling that stretches from the youngest players in the club, to the oldest. “As far as our club being a winning organization, I feel that that just reflects our work ethic. Our determination to win and succeed. It reflects our team’s commitment with the players and the coaches. Also our ability to play under pressure and still come out on top.”
Speaking of pressure, 16U boys’ left side Deman Dulat, thrives on it, adding it inspires both he, and his teammates, to bigger and better results.
“The fact that every team wants to beat Pakmen and embarrass us, gives me more confidence because if we prepare well during practice then the word ‘pressure’ should not be brought up,” said Dulat. “The feeling you get after winning Provincials is outstanding.” he added, “But the feeling you get knowing you are playing on such a developed organization, that has it all, is even better. “The coaches are extraordinary and the amount of support we earn from our peers, parents, and club mates are by far the best.”
Dulat feels the parents are often overlooked and are the forgotten heroes. “Outside of our team, there’s one person among others that I can always count on,” he said. “My dad. I can rely on my dad for guidance and advice, because he has supported me in my biggest moments. Even though he’s not ‘volleyball smart’, he still finds different ways to help me out, such as recording my games, picking out my positive and negative affects on my team, and giving me little pep talks before my crucial games. This effects my game play hugely because I gain more confidence, knowing my dad is watching and supporting me.”
Perhaps coach Aleksander Mamuzic best embodies the winning Pakmen environment. At age 24, he is one of the youngest coaches, but one of the most successful as well, with the full respect of each of his 16U boys’ players. “It is really amazing to be given the privilege to coach for the Pakmen Volleyball Club,” he said. “I grew up playing for the club (15U-18U) and had an amazing experience. I am glad that I can give back to the next generation of Pakmen athletes and train them to become winners.”
Mamuzic points to the staff’s sharing of knowledge that’s constantly helping to improve and fine-tune the coaching, and in turn the club’s overall talent level.
And Mamuzic says, it all starts from the top with Smith. “As I am a fairly new coach, he often takes time out of his schedule to check up on my team and give great advice on small things I can work into my practice to help specific players excel.”
Mamuzic is also thankful he had the opportunity to serve as an assistant under Stanko. “The experience taught me a lot about how to run practices,” he said. “Important skills, including drills, to focus on during different periods of the season.” Mamuzic also had praise for coaches Lennard Krapp, who he refers to as, “By far the most technical coach I have ever worked with. He understands the sport at such a high level and knows great techniques and progressions to teach any skill.” As for Jeff Chung, Mamuzic says, “Although I have never personally worked with him, the skills and experience he brings to our club’s setters is great. Our setters would not be nearly as good if it was not for him.” And last, but not least, Tom Leca. “Although he is not as highly recognized as the others on this list, his coaching habits truly inspire me. The energy he is able to bring to his practices and in games has made me change the way I coach.”
Krapp, Canada’s Olympic coach, heads up the Volleyball Canada Centre of Excellence Mississauga. Krapp, along with Stanko, Ryerson University head coach Reid, and conditioning coach Brad Thorpe, give Pakmen members yet another opportunity to learn from the sport’s leaders.
“Joining the VCCE Sunday Program was one of my best choices this year,” said Wiercigroch. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable and experienced coaches like Orest Stanko, Dustin Reid and Aleks Mamuzic. Throughout the program, we focused on fundamental volleyball skills that needed to be executed during games. After every practice I was filled with amazing feedback on how to improve certain aspects of my playing.”
With such experience and talent continuing to guide the club, the club’s future seems in very good and capable hands.