Pakmen storm out of the Windy City with a win!
By DAVID WINER
Chicago fans have had the fortune of witnessing some of the greatest sports stars of all time.
From the Bulls’ Michael Jordan and the Bears’ Walter Payton, to the Blackhawks’ Bobby Hull and the Cubs’ Ernie Banks, superstars have always graced the Windy City.
While the Mississauga 18u Pakmen didn’t elbow their way onto the front pages of the Sun-Times, or Tribune, they did carve out a little niche at last week’s (Jan. 17-19) Boys’ Winter Championships at the McCormack Place in Chicago. Facing 63 opponents, some among the best volleyball teams on either side of the 49th parallel, the Pakmen displayed a steely resolve that should boost morale and stoke confidence for some time to come. None of the seven American opponents the Pakmen faced leading up to the playoffs could be construed as pushovers. And then, the competition reached another level beginning with Florida’s Ocean Bay Quicksilver in the quarter-finals, who the Pakmen edged, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23.
“What I noticed from the boys was the belief they could win,” said head coach Michael Albert. “Watching all these amazing teams during the tournament can be intimidating and I know we all admired the talent. “I think that we had no expectations going into the quarter finals. We watched (Ocean Bay) earlier and I’m not sure we knew how well we could do against them. “(But) once the boys noticed they were able to play at that level, I think they started to believe they were not limited in what team they could defeat. This confidence seemed to build as the day progressed.”
That spurred on a 26-24, 23-25, 15-12 triumph over No. 1 seed Baja of California in the semi-finals, and a come-from-behind 20-25, 25-19, 15-10 marathon against No. 2 seed HPSTL Royal from St. Louis in the final. “The first game in the finals was the most challenging due to fatigue,” said Albert, who has coached the team for five years. While the Pakmen had two matches to rest up for the championship, Albert felt it initially worked against them. “After sitting for two matches, we got off to a slow start and didn’t seem ready to further push ourselves physically,” he said. “The players were clearly exhausted,” unable at times to alertly communicate and pass on the court. “When you’re that tired, physically and mentally, the most challenging skill is passing,” explained Albert. “This skill requires the longest duration of focus to complete.
“At one point during a timeout, all we talked about was passing and how they had to dig deep, because they were so tired. Somehow, in the third set, every pass was perfect. They found that last push and played their best.”
A scary thought for opponents, considering the Pakmen have already proven to be among the best after winning the Ontario championships and capturing silver at the Nationals last year.
Members of the team, also headed up by assistant Renato Zanchetta, include Zachery Albert, Pradeep Bhogal, Ethan Ellison, Kenneth Dobson, Craig Ireland, Stephen Kary, Andrew Kos, Toure Nwakwesi, Shaunak Pandit, Sahil Punni, Amandip Rakkar, Gurjot Sidhu and Dale Towe.
Prior to the playoffs, the Pakmen defeated Chicago’s Club 1 Elite, 25-13, 25-20, Chicago’s 3rd Coast Elite 25-14, 22-25, 15-8, Cincinnati Attack 25-19, 25-21, Chicago’s Ultimate Blue 25-23, 25-22, Wisconsin’s WVA Nightmares 25-22, 23-25, 15-9, Chicago Hitmen 27-25, 32-30, and the Ocean Bay Waves 25-23, 25-20.