Pakmen Grads Lead Ryerson Rams to National Prominence
By DAVID WINER
When Kelly Smith launched the Pakmen Volleyball Club in 2002 his initial goal was to popularize and improve volleyball at the Peel elementary school level.
Speed forward 16 years and those initial ripples formed by the club locally, have spread to the provincial and national levels resulting in 33 National and 64 Provincial titles.
That tsunami of successes reached the university level in a monumental way recently when five Pakmen graduates played key roles in leading the Ryerson Rams to the school’s first-ever Canadian title of any kind.
Cailin Wark, Mady Timpany, Janelle Albert, Lauren Veltman and Alicia Lam were major contributors, along with former Toronto Diamonds star Theanna Vernon, the sister of Pakmen great and Italian club pro, Sharone Vernon-Evans.
Together, they led the Rams in every key category, including kills, digs and points as the Rams enjoyed a perfect 19-0 season, followed by an OUA (Ontario University Athletics) championship and a thrilling gold medal finish at the U Sports National Championships at Quebec City’s Laval University on March 18.
With Albert and Lam just concluding their freshman seasons and Wark, Timpany and Veltman finishing their second year sophomore campaigns, more success is likely on the horizon for the Rams, who defeated UBC Okanagan 3-2 in the quarters, No. 1 seed Calgary Dinos 3-1 in the semis, and Alberta Pandas 3-1 in the final.
While Vernon was named the tournament’s MVP, outside hitter Veltman was named to the all-star team and fellow outside hitter Albert established a game-high and career-high in digs, with 28 in the championship.
“This is an unbelievable moment in Ryerson history and I am so grateful to be a part of such an historical moment,” exclaimed Lam. “I cannot put into words how proud and happy I am to call myself a Ram. The friendships I have made throughout the year have been amazing and I will have them for the rest of my life.
“The coaching staff has been a huge part of our success and has made this experience so enjoyable,” continued Lam. “This makes all the hard work we have put into the season, through all the ups and downs, so worth it. This will be a moment in history I will always remember and be proud to say I was a part of. We will never forget the accomplishments we have achieved this year and the amazing support from friends, family and fans.”
“Being a member of the first team in Ryerson history to win the National Title is insane,” chimed in Timpany. “It is a school that is on the rise and being able to show how far the program has come with that gold medal, is such an honor. There is so much work that is put in by players, coaches and administrative staff at Ryerson to lead the four core sports to success. I think winning the championship is a way to really thank those people, as well as the alumni who came before us. I think Ryerson will continue to improve throughout all of athletics and we will hopefully see many more banners in the near future.”
The impact of Lam, Timpany and the other Pakmen grads are not lost on Ryerson head coach Dustin Reid, who also serves as the Technical Excellence coach for the Pakmen.
“We’ve been fortunate to have so many players on our Ryerson team come from Pakmen over the past few years,” proclaimed Reid. “Alicia, Cailin, Janelle, Lauren and Mady were all prepared to make an impact at the university level following their experience at Pakmen.
“Special credit goes to Mike Albert and Pat Daniels who did such a great job developing these players in their 17/18U seasons,” added the 10-year Ryerson head coach. “This is a special group of young women who accomplished great things while playing for Pakmen and have continued on that level of performance with us at Ryerson.”
The Pakmen experience featuring top-notch coaching and guidance was not lost on Timpany, who couldn’t say enough about the coaches who prepared her for her post-club career.
“The biggest role Pakmen played was introducing me to the high performance mindset before entering university,” said the setter out of Woodstock. “The club is so successful for many reasons, but I think the main one is it enforces a competitive atmosphere and a standard for wanting to be champions. Pakmen also offered extensive opportunities to improve through setting clinics with Jeff Chung, the VCCE program with Dustin and access to many knowledgable and devoted coaches.”
“Pakmen did an amazing job building a sturdy foundation that provided me with all the necessary tools and resources I needed for success,” added teammate Lam. “Development started in my younger years as the idea of playing post-secondary was brought to light. The program was able to provide me with opportunities no other clubs were.
“Pushing the athletes to become the best version of themselves was the main focus of Pakmen, and the constant support was very helpful,” added the 5-foot-8 setter out of Oakville. “The training sessions were very hands on and informative, which created a positive environment. The coaches at Pakmen were a huge influence on the preparation for post-secondary, as they used their knowledge to help educate me to their best ability. Ultimately, giving me the best chance I could get. I could not have done it without their support.”
For the above reasons, both Timpany and Lam maintained the jump to university ball wasn’t as taxing and arduous as it may have been for others.
“I didn’t feel the leap from club to university was that drastic,” said the 5-foot-8 Timpany. “Obviously the level of play improves, as well as the pace of the game. But as far as practices go, we practiced about the same at Pakmen as we do at Ryerson.”
Lam, for her part, felt the move was a bit more difficult.
“Club volleyball is a great foundation, but once I transitioned to university ball I realized how different the level of intensity is and how much more demanding it is,” said Lam, who is in her first year of Business Technology Management. “The two have their similarities, but also many differences, that set them apart. It is a challenge to balance school and volleyball, but once in university it is amped up even more.”
Lam referred to the extra travel and time on the court as a further adjustment.
“There are more school hours, and more hours in the gym on and off the court,” explained Lam. “The commitment and time constraint was the biggest leap. There is a bigger preparation for games as it is usually once or twice per weekend, with travelling to schools around Ontario. Plus game footage preparation is included on each player, formulating an extensive and detailed game plan. I had never experienced this much preparation for a sport I have been doing for almost all my life, which was a huge difference that took time to get used to.
“Dustin helped make the transition between club volleyball and university volleyball very smooth, making sure I was comfortable and familiar with everything. He helped build up my confidence, which in turn, helped me feel more confident about my skills.”
With this being her second year, Timpany had already made many of the adjustments Lam experienced this year. But, she too was thankful to know Reid prior to beginning her university career.
“Knowing Dustin before was definitely helpful in making for a smooth transition,” said Timpany, a graduate of St. Mary’s Catholic High School, who is studying Sport Media. “(And) I have played with Lauren, Cailin, and Janelle since 15U. It is really cool to say we are still playing together and going through this experience with them has been really beneficial to me.”
“One of the greatest benefits from being a varsity athlete is learning to manage my time,” added Timpany. “It is a skill that will be useful the rest of my life. Now as I end my second year I find the combination easier because it gives you another reason to stay on top of things.”
While five Rams graduate from the school program this year, Lam is confident the team is prepared to grow, especially with five former Pakmen forming the core and entering their second and third years.
“Even though five outstanding seniors are leaving us, I feel as though we are hungry and ready for the 2019 season to be here already,” said Lam. “We have built a great foundation here at Ryerson and winning both the OUA and USports Championships has created a great path for future volleyball athletes and the program at Ryerson.
“I expect everyone to come prepared and driven to defend our accomplishments and to work hard to improve our game to the next level. We will focus on working as a team to get better as a whole and work even harder this year to achieve the goals we set.”