Pakmen own the podium at OVA Beach Provincials
By DAVID WINER
The Pakmen have drawn a line in the sand that may never be crossed.
Competing at the Ontario Volleyball Association Beach Provincials, the Pakmen Volleyball Club prevailed with a flurry of gold medal performances that would confound the most optimistic prognosticator.
“It was a record performance!” said ecstatic Pakmen director Kelly Smith. “These were the most Tier 1 gold medals at a Provincial Championship in OVA history.”
Many of the 200 enthusiastic youngsters, who took to the six regulation sized courts this summer to participate in Elite Beach training, competed at an unworldly level resulting in 10 out of a possible 15 Tier 1 gold medal showings.
“We are especially proud of head coach Jessy Satti after coming off a record-breaking indoor season,” said Smith. “His 18U boys won Provincials and Nationals, and he became the first coach to ever win three consecutive 18U national titles. Now, his male beach athletes performed so well, winning almost every single event, including several all-Pakmen finals, and in some cases, winning gold, silver and bronze.
“Also, Arjun Selhi, who played for Jessy as an indoor player and was one of Jessy’s assistant coaches on the beach for three years is now in charge of the girls’ program and they also enjoyed a lot of success.”
“Across the board on the boys and girls side we’ve had a tremendous amount of success, said Satti. “I give a lot of credit to the athletes, who make the conscious decision to stick with their teammates and do beach volleyball with the club. It creates a really good dynamic and team culture. There’s lots of opportunities for players to do different beach programs with other coaches, but I’ve found our athletes enjoy our beach program. It shows that the club is able to offer high quality programming 12 months of the year, and our results from indoor and beach proves that.”
Setting the tone were Pakmen trailblazers Salma Abdelrazak on the girls’ side and the tandem of
Misha Panasiouk and Aleksa Rakic on the boys’ side who worked overtime to collect two gold medals apiece.
Panasiouk and Rakic mastered the 15U and 16U Tier 1 age groups that were chock-full of Pakmen teammates.
“I think Misha and Aleks had a great summer. When they played up (16U) and won, it was definitely a special moment,” said Satti. “I think they showed people that the way beach volleyball is played can outweigh factors like size and athleticism. We make sure to teach beach the way we feel it should be played, and we’ve done that since the inception of our club. By getting athletes to buy into the training and structure, it puts them in a position to have a lot of success.”
The 15U division, contested August 12-13 at Toronto’s Ashbridges Bay, was swept by Panasiouk and Rakic, followed by silver medalists Davis Hinshelwoods and Spencer Ham and bronze medalists Cooper Spehr and Jonathan Sousa.
Pakmen inhabited two of the three podium placings in the 16U competition on August 5-6 with Yahia Elsayed and Chris Tang securing the bronze.
The highlight of the tournament for both Panasiouk and Rakic was beating Elsayed and Tang in the 16U semi-final.
“We lost to them in the final at an earlier tournament and they became the duo that we always wanted to play and beat,” explained Rakic. “While we lost to them in the first set, we fought through it and eventually won the third set 18-16.”
“Even though we were ranked No. 1 entering the competition, the favorites were Yahia and Chris, who are both really good beach players and were also the tournament winners last year,” added Panasiouk. “We are also a year younger than them. But in a really close third game we were able to win, despite the fact the majority of the audience supported the opposing team.”
A lot of planning had to go into Rakic and Panasiouk’s style of play considering there would be extra wear and tear on their bodies competing on back-to-back weekends.
“Having to play multiple games a day with only about an hour of time for a break, it came down to how efficiently we used our time to rest and recover,” explained Rakic. “Sitting in the shade, and wearing towels and shirts to conserve our energy, was a must. After finishing each day we used our time to recover using ice, a roller and massage gun to prepare us for the next day and stay as fresh as possible.”
However, the biggest reason for success, other than talent, is the rapport the two have developed.
“Since Misha joined our rep team two years ago we’ve stayed close friends,” said Rakic, who attends Mississauga’s Applewood Secondary School. “Being able to connect easily from this friendship, it was easy to play together. All the time that we spent practicing on the beach and indoors made our basic skills better and helped us learn how to help each other through our struggles. If I’m struggling Misha is there to help me, and if Misha is struggling, I am there to help him.”
Panasiouk, who attends Earl Haig in North York, says there’s a number of factors for their success.
“The first is, of course, trust. We know that at the most crucial and stressful moment we will make the right decision that will lead the team to success. The second is communication. We are good at making our jobs easier and more efficient by communicating on the court; and the third is we are strong players in terms of set of skills no matter who the opponent serves, we know that we will definitely score a point.”
“We are able to adapt and learn from our opponents,” added Rakic. “We understand how our opponents play and not only play to our strengths, but to their weaknesses.”
“I’d also like to give a huge thank you to the coaches and parents for helping and giving us the opportunity to achieve such success,” concluded Panasiouk.
On the girls’ side, Abdelrazak teamed with fellow Pakmen member Zadie Biss-Mantziounis to defeat fellow Pakmen athletes Vivian Vargas and Darci Wilson for the 13U gold, after teaming with non-Pakmen player Katrina Kottoor out of Leaside to win the 12U classification. Pakmen’s Katie Rutter and Kayleigh Sinclair-Killackey placed third.
“It wasn’t difficult playing with two partners because, at our age, we usually play with multiple people instead of sticking to one partner,” said Abdelrazek. “I also had the opportunity to play multiple tournaments with both of my provincial partners. The week before each provincial I would train all week with my partner for that weekend.”
Finishing a double gold medalist was quite the feat for Abdelrazek, who is still relatively new to the sport.
“Last year was the first time I played beach. I medalled in some tournaments and even won a few, but when it came to beach provincials, I didn’t win gold. This season was a very successful one for me. It started when I won all my indoor tournaments and came out first at the Ontario indoor championships. When beach started I won many tournaments and was very lucky to have been able to win provincials in both 12 and 13U. Winning gold at beach provincials was a very new, but exciting experience.”
“Both my partners are very strong players and have their own strengths, but what made me successful with them was the way we connected, bringing out the best in each other.”
And Abdelrazek, who attends Heritage Glen Public School in Oakville, had to be at her best in many of the matches, especially in 13U play.
“As we got further into the playoffs our matches got tougher and tougher. We even got into a few three setters. We prevailed by remaining focused, staying mentally strong and reminding ourselves how much we wanted to win. Communication also played a big part in us doing so well.”
Biss-Mantziounis wholeheartedly agrees.
“I feel we vibe well on the court, and we’ve become good friends, which also helps. I trust Salma, and I feel I can depend on her to put the ball in the right place. She always hussles for each ball, always gives it 100 per cent. I feel I understand her movements and we feel we know where to go, how to move, where to place the ball. It is just a special vibe I feel we have. I think we communicate very well on and off the court, which I value in Salma a lot.
“Salma is a very positive and motivated player,” added Biss-Mantziounis. “She tries her absolute hardest to never get down on herself. Even though it does happen at times, we always motivate and cheer each other on. I think we both have strong serves, and that sets up each point very well. We can hit hard but we also have developed the skill of knowing when to play with angles, pokeys, roll-shots. Salma’s greatest strength is her mental toughness and her ability for digging the balls. I feel we both read the ball quite well and it helps us in scoring.”
And coaching has played a large part in their success.
“All my beach volleyball knowledge comes from Pakmen,” added Biss-Mantziounis, who has been part of the beach program for two seasons. “My success is thanks to them and the hard work of my beach partners and myself. All the Pakmen beach coaches were very supportive, always encouraging and motivating me. I fell in love with beach volleyball thanks to them.
“And, It was great that Pakmen coaches came to support us at the Provincials, and they provided direct coaching right there. They helped us when we were mentally down, and they believed in both Salma and I. That motivated us to keep pushing through the hard matches. It was nice to see they believed in us.”
Speaking of pushing through tough moments, 17U partners Chris Tautrims and Brecken Morrison had to overcome last year’s demons and an unflattering No. 11 seeding to win the 17U boys division, in what ended up being a top-four showing by Pakmen players.
Parker Ocampo and Wil Basilio won silver, Chris Tang and Yahia Elsayed won bronze and Danilo Borcic and Justin Low-Ring finished fourth.
“We saw a lot of success in our first few years winning a few provincials in indoor and beach and all sorts of accomplishments,” said Tautrims . “But, last year we struggled, not even making the podium. It was a tough experience for us because we knew how much we were capable of, but we let silly expectations get the best of us. This year felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders. We went in with no expectations. It made the win feel even better because of that. It is nice to be rewarded for the hard work we put in.
“With the help of our coaches we came into these provincials with a much better mindset being able to use that pressure as fuel to play even better than normal in those pressure situations.
With Tautrims being away for much of the summer it had a direct impact on their seeding. But “that was probably for the best, because it took some pressure off of us. It made our pool play a bit tougher, but I don’t completely think that was a bad thing, as it made us feel more prepared to play harder matches the next day.”
“We had a tough last match,” explained Morrison. “We had a lead and ended up losing the first set. This affected us mentally and physically because we were already tired and now we knew we had to push for a comeback. We won the second set to push for a third where we were down 8-6 then a timeout was called. We knew all we had to do to comeback was trust each other and play our game, which was a good win to end our day.”
Morrison and Tautrims , who both attend Garth Webb Secondary in Oakville, feel familiarity has played a big part in all their accomplishments.
“I feel like a big part of our success comes from our chemistry and hard work,” said Morrison. “We have known each other since we were 12 and have played on the same club team ever since. We are always pushing each other to be the best versions of ourselves.”
“We are successful because we are great volleyball players, but we are also good friends,” chimed Tautrims . “When times get tough, our teamwork and relationship sets us apart from many of the other teams. I do my role and he does his. We know how to count on each other.”
Cameron Gibson and Jordan Low-Ring, winners of the 14U boys’ division, were the complete opposite of Morrison and Tautrims .
“Cameron and I have played on the same indoor team for two years, but were playing with different partners for the start of the beach year until mid-July,” said Low-Ring, who teamed with Gibson for yet another Pakmen gold.
“We were ranked first entering the tournament, because we had both won many tournaments with different partners.”
Low-Ring chalked up their success with their distinct height advantage with Low-Ring standing 6-foot-2 and Gibson at 6-foot-4, concluding with an easy 10-point victory in the final.
“We were able to pull off the victory with our ball control,” said Low-Ring. “It was a very windy day and most teams were struggling with it, but we’ve had practices with strong winds and were able to stay in control.”
“We also have complementary skills and expertise that helps us tackle a wider range of challenges,” said Gibson. “Using our height helps get that big block or attack at the net. Most importantly, we really trust and support each other.”
And any time the tandem was down in a set, the trust element prevailed.
“There were a couple of times that we were down and just being able to trust each other and push through together to overcome and continue winning was amazing,” said Gibson, who couldn’t hold in his excitement after the final point.
“That final moment, that final point, when we realized it was all done and we got No. 1 in the province was truly exciting and very memorable.”
And what tied their success together was coaching.
“Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have been as successful this season without Pakmen training,” said Gibson. “It played a crucial role and supported our journey by improving my physical fitness and focusing on specific beach skills each week. It also helped develop teamwork and adaptability as we learned to play with different players. The coaches were always supportive, including in the provincials.”
Closing out the winners on the boys’ side were 18U champions Ben Kuhner and Simon Bourne, who beat teammates Quintin Greenidge and Jaiden Beason in the final; and Greenidge and Jack Svendsen, who captured the Youth Open.
On the girls’ side, Alex Brenner and her partner won 15U girls, Arianna Lonardi and her teammate captured 16U girls and Lonardi and Olivia Pasternak captured bronze in 17U girls.