Pakmen sweep 18U Provincial titles
By DAVID WINER
The Pakmen Volleyball Club pulled off an exceptional feat at the recent Ontario Provincial Championships at Toronto’s Enercare Centre.
In addition to finishing as the top club for the 11th consecutive year with four golds, one silver and four bronze medals, Pakmen achieved the rare golden sweep in the 18U category for both boys and girls.
Such an accomplishment has only been accomplished once, also by the Pakmen in 2006.
Club founder Kelly Smith was euphoric; gratified in knowing the successful squads were headed up by a couple of his original players from David Leeder Middle School, Kadeem Clarke and Jessy Satti. Both had pivotal roles on the 2002 team that captured the club’s first-ever Ontario Provincial Championship.
Now, 21 years later, the club has come full circle with its original winning players succeeding as championship coaches on the provincial and national stages.
“When this all began (two decades ago), there was no long-term plan other than to provide a team for Jessy and Kadeem throughout their youth volleyball years,” explained Smith. “I had no idea it would lead to a career in the sport for the both of them. There were no full time coaching jobs back then, and university and college coaching positions were part time jobs, for the most part.”
“(As players) they went on to win the 18U National title,” boasted Smith as only a proud patriarch could. “And since then, they have been coaching in our club since they were 15, then became full-time coaches right out of college. Now in their early 30s they already have 15-plus years coaching experience and are the future of the club.
“Both Jessy and Kadeem have accumulated thousands of hours of coaching experience, and even though they are still young, they have more coaching experience than almost anyone in the sport. They are now seasoned coaches who have seen it all and intuitively know how to handle all the situations that coaches face.”
Smith says both Clarke and Satti bring a number of positives to the coaching ranks.
“Kadeem is incredibly passionate, but always remains calm,” continued Smith. “His athletes like him because he is honest with them.
“Jessy is an incredible coach, always calm and confident. He knows how to develop a culture of excellence on every team he’s ever coached. There is no one in the sport with a better coaching record in terms of Provincials and National Championships, both indoor and on the beach.” Both coaches and their players faced challenges on the way to gold.
The 18U girls swept No. 16 seed Vision Attack 25-7, 25-18; No. 9 seed Titans Menace 25-16, 25-17; and No. 8 seed SC Bandits National 25-13, 25-19 to reach the playdowns.
Then the Pakmen had to prevail through some close moments before defeating No. 7 seed MVC Everest 3-1 (25-20, 28-26, 23-25, 25-16); No 4. ranked Maverick Broncos 3-1 (20-25, 25-15, 26-24, 25-17); and No. 3 seed Halton Hurricanes 25-23, 25-20, 25-21 to capture the gold.
Members of Clarke’s 18U winning squad include; Rayanna Amos-Ross Fisher, Emma Glagau, Sarah Harland, Lael Harrison, Sophia Henson, Olivia Julien, Logan King, Ella Piskorz, Hannah Ropret, Angelika Vidmar, Jada Weir and Kailee Young.
Clarke and assistant coach Devan O’Conner have been with the team since their 13U year, and have noticed steady growth from the start.
“We started as a tier 2 division 1 team and have improved greatly each year to eventually being the number one team in the top division,” said Clarke.
“The reason for their success is that we have a group of hard working, high IQ athletes who love and sacrifice for each other in order for the team to be successful.”
And says Clarke, “Every match is tough when competing in the top division. I have a great coaching staff that helps prepare the athletes for every match and the team clicked at the right time.”
Clarke, now 33, points out he owes all of his volleyball success from his early days at David Leeder under the helmsmanship of Smith beginning as a 14-year-old.
“Kelly was my coach for my entire youth career,” says Clarke, who began coaching at the club when he was 16.
“I definitely fell in love with the sport and club at an early age and have been very fortunate to have some of my closest friends do the same,” said Clarke. “I think volleyball is one of the hardest and most challenging sports to play and the fact that we started from nothing to playing and teaching it to such a high level is something to be proud of.
“I’ve just been very fortunate to come up under the Pakmen umbrella and have gotten a chance to learn from some of the best coaches as a player and coach,” added Clarke. “I’ve also had a chance to pick some great volleyball minds through the years.”
Adding extra joy to Satti and Clarke was the opportunity to witness each team’s victory from the bleachers.
“Kadeem is one of my closest friends,” explained Satti. “We played Pakmen together from 14u-18u and we were also beach partners; so for both of us to win was a pretty special moment. Kadeem has put in a lot of work over the years to provide a great experience for all of his athletes, so it was a very special moment watching his team win. The whole experience was very inspiring. The girls played before us, so we got to watch them win and run on to the court and give them all high fives and congratulate them. Then after they got their medals they came back and cheered us on and watched us win.”
And that gold medal victory came against the top seeded Thundercats Elevate, 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20.
“There’s always a level of concern going into each match,” explained Satti. “In this case we actually lost to the teams we played in the semis and the finals the last time we met. We made some good adjustments over the last few weeks, I brought a lot of old alumni back to practices to scrimmage with us so we created a very competitive environment in practice. When we got to these big matches at Provincials we were totally prepared and playing our best.”
Pakmen knocked off No. 3 seed Durham Attack Fierce 25-23, 25-20, 25-15 in the semi-finals, and No. 8 seed Kingston Rock 25-13, 25-16, 25-17 in the quarters.
In pool B action, Pakmen toppled No. 15 seed Northern Chill Norsemen 25-22, 25-19; No. 10 seed Ancaster Lions Pounce 25-10, 25-16; and No.7 ranked Unity North 25-23, 25-18
Members of the gold medal winning team include, William Basilio, Shivtaz Bath, Jaiden Beason,
Joshua Beuck, Gavin Deep, Keagan Dunne, Quintin Greenidge, Ian Kennedy, Maximilian Kosciuch, Paul Manna, Owen Mcconnell, Brady Paterson, Mekhi Roncesvalles, Kye Young, and coaches Dave McAllister, Andre Smith and Wilson Kha.
While all championships are sweet, Satti had a special place in his heart for this team.
“Each victory is special in its own way,” began Satti. “But this one was particularly special because I’ve had this group since they were 15U. They’ve lost seasons due to the pandemic so it was great for them to finally come out on top in their last Provincials together. There’s a lot of guys on this team who have been with the club since 13U, and about eight guys from when I took over in 15U. It feels great that we were able to win with a consistent core of players. It makes it feel that much more rewarding.”
And, while Satti says it helps having all these years of experience as a coach, the challenge never changes.
“(Coaching) definitely doesn’t get easier,” said Satti. “There’s a lot of good teams in Ontario and great talent. It takes a lot to win. In our case our guys continued to gel together as the season went on. We took our time and stayed patient, and we played our best volleyball at Provincials. It’s nice to see them starting to peak leading up to Nationals.”
The Volleyball Canada Youth National Championships takes place May 11-20 at the Olympic Oval and the University of Calgary.