Pakmen gobble up the opposition at U18 Ontario Beach Championships

By DAVID WINER
Little did Parvir Jhajj and Sharone Vernon-Evans realize while preparing these past few months for the Ontario Beach Volleyball Championships, that their practice partners would end up comprising the opposition in the U18 final.
Yet sure enough, when all the sand had settled from the previous Saturday and Sunday’s matches at Toronto’s Ashbridge’s Bay, good friends and Pakmen teammates Harnoor Grewal and Jordan Baric were standing on the opposite side of the net with gold and silver medals hanging in the balance.
“It was great just to sit back and watch,” said both teams’ coach Jessy Satti. “These guys have been going at each other all summer in practice, so it was nice to see them finally play in an official match.”
In the end, it was the older U17 combatants Jhajj and Vernon-Evans who persevered over their younger U16 foes, 21-11, 21-18.

Seeded second, Jhajj and Vernon-Evans were expected to make the final, but against No. 1 seeds Sahil Punni and Andrew Kos, who are also part of the powerhouse Pakmen club, and not No. 7 seeds Grewal and Baric.

“Being in a final is always exciting and it comes with a bit of nerves,” said Jhajj. “But playing our own teammates, who we practice with, is really competitive because we know how each of our styles of play are inside and out.”

Knowing one another inside and out may be an understatement considering how much the two teams see of one another.

“We always train together 2-3 times a week, and practices are always super focused and competitive, especially prior to the Ontario Championships, to get ourselves mentally prepared,” added Jhajj, of their sixth and final match of the weekend.

“We were very excited to play them,” countered Grewal, “because we always train with them and give them a challenge and make them nervous. It’s always fun playing Parvir and Sharone because we are really close with them and knowing their game plan made us confident that we could do well against them.”

The 6-foot-1 Jhajj, who will attend Grade 12 at Mississauga Secondary School in the fall, said it’s their “different styles of play,” that make he and Vernon-Evans “such a tough team.

“Everyone has to adjust to us differently depending on who’s getting served. Sharone’s blocking and hitting are phenomenal, and my defense and my aggressive serves are my strength.”

Their team chemistry certainly isn’t surprising to their coach. “Parvir and Sharone have played together since U14,” said Satti. “They have such good chemistry. These guys know each other so well and they know how to get the most of each other.”

Jhajj and Vernon-Evans will next test their skills at the U18 Nationals, “which is our biggest tournament this year, and what we have been training hard for!”

Meanwhile Baric and Grewal have a busier stretch in mind.

“This upcoming week, me and Harnoor are travelling to Los Angeles, California to play in three tournaments to see how we fair against kids our age in the U.S., and when we return, we still have to play 16U nationals.”

Maybe when they’re in L.A., Grewal and Baric will be able to sell their script to a Hollywood producer. After all, it’s not often that a set ends up going, 23-21, 37-39, 15-13. Those were the scores Grewal and Baric won by in their quarter-final marathon against Punni and Koss.

“We were really tired (after that match) but we just wanted to push through in the semis, (on the same day against a squad from Leaside) and we could just have fun in the finals,” said Baric.

“We were very shocked that we ended up coming second in the 18U provincials,” Baric continued. “We went into the quarter finals playing the previous 18U national champs, who happened to be our very good friends. We went into the game just to have fun and try our best and we ended up beating them!”

“We weren’t expecting to even medal in the tournament as there were some solid teams,” added partner, Grewal, especially after losing one of their three opening matches on Saturday.

“We played with no fear, and just gave it all we had,” added Grewal. “We stuck to our game plan and followed it throughout the entire tournament. We had the mind set of ‘we have nothing to lose’ and we just went forward from there.”

The 6-foot-3 Baric, who will attend Grade 11 at Iona Catholic School in the Fall, will also be U17 teammates with Grewal for the upcoming indoor season. Baric will line up as a left side, while Grewal, who will attend Grade 11 at Mississauga Secondary, is a right side/setter.

While the two have been teammates the past two seasons in beach volleyball, their knowledge of one another dates back further having been opponents in the Ontario Youth Soccer League.

“We both played soccer together in the same league but on different teams,” recalls Baric. “We didn’t even know each other, but we always came up against one another.”

So, when the indoor teammates were looking for partners two summers ago, with Baric’s partner Cem Torun deciding to take the season off, and Grewal’s partner Pranshu Patel deciding to play with another partner, the two decided to hook up.

“I feel we’re very successful because we play very unorthodox and free,” said Baric “We’re not necessarily the best hitters, servers, or passers, but we make the teams we play against hate playing us because of our weird play style, doing things nobody else does. “Like when we one ball and two ball on the play,” explained Baric. “Instead of using all three of our hits, we put it over right away and catch the players off guard. Anyone can do it, but no one does it as much as us.” And their strengths feed off one another.

“Since Harnoor is a setter, his hands are very good making all of his sets perfect and very clean, rarely ever getting called on a double or lift,” said Baric. “I feel my strength is my ability to stay calm in a high pressure situation. Whenever the game is really close I’m always able to side out no matter the amount of pressure on the line.”

“Harnoor and Jordan trained hard all summer,” added coach Satti. “They have been one of the most consistent pairs. They were a very polished team, all of their shots were crisp, and they covered the court well.”

The result was a perfect weekend for Satti with Pakmen squads pulling off a one-two sweep.

“I’m extremely proud of both teams,” said Satti. “These guys work so hard, I’m not surprised that they got to stand on the podium together.”