Pakmen’s 17u Girls Have Golden Aspirations

By DAVID WINER

Of the seven medals won by Mississauga Pakmen teams last indoor season, none seemed sweeter, based on preconceived expectations, than the Provincial gold captured by the club’s 16U girls.

Sure, the club had its share of repeat, three-peat and even quadruple-peat winners, but the girls taking gold for the first time in four years was extremely gratifying for the newest tenants of the Ontario Volleyball Association penthouse suite.

Following back-to-back fifth-place showings against close to 100 OVA combatants the previous two years, everything melded into a winning unit under head coach Kadeem Clarke.

It turned out all that the winning recipe required was time and an all-for-one mindset.

Patient in his approach, Clarke kept preaching about the technical aspects of the game until the light went on with his players this past season, as they won eight of their nine matches at the OVA finals including a 2-0 win over the Halton Hurricanes in the gold medal match.

“I do really like to concentrate on the fundamentals and the development of my athletes at the younger ages,” said Clarke.

“Volleyball is a very technical sport and it’s fairly difficult to perfect certain skills at the younger ages,” added the Mississauga native. “It also depends on the type of athletes you have. Some peak faster than others.

“When it came to my team, a lot of my athletes needed time, and simply weren’t strong or fast enough to perfect those skills needed to be successful. This year, with big help from Reid Hall the founder of the matrix program, he designed a sports-specific training course to help the girls get stronger, faster and increase their flexibility and mobility, which was the difference in helping them perfect their craft.”

Along with the technical side, Clarke continued to emphasize team play, which culminated in team gold.

“I brought success to the team last year by changing the culture,” added the former Mississauga Secondary and Sheridan College student. “Throughout the year I tried to make the girls understand the importance of sacrifice…’what are you willing to sacrifice for the success of the team’.”

It certainly helped, added Clarke, to have the support of assistants Jessy Satti, Lindsay Murphy and Devon O’Conner.

“They came up with ideas to help the girls understand that concept,” continued Clarke. “Like making sure in every practice the girls give their teammates feedback. And asking them questions like ‘on the court do you make others around you play better, or worse?’ And the biggest one was getting the athletes to put the team ahead of (increased) playing time. That one was not easy, but with a bit of persistence, the girls bought into it.”

Promising a better ending than the fifth-place finishes the team endured at both the Provincials and Nationals the previous two years, proved to be good motivation.

Satti knows Clarke the best at the club based on their long career together as players and fellow coaches.

“Kadeem and I grew up together,” said Satti. “We started playing volleyball when we were 13, and we were also beach partners, competing in beach for four years winning two Provincial championships. We also played on the 18U Pakmen that won Nationals in 2008.”

Knowing Clarke thorougly as a player, Satti grew to appreciate Clarke even more as a coach.

“Kadeem’s strength is his patience,” said Satti. “He has a very calm demeanor and really focuses on technical skills and gives athletes the appropriate time to develop. I’ve been helping Kadeem with his team for three years now and over that time I’ve seen his girls develop tremendously. And they have a ton of respect for him.”

Satti adds that Clarke has continued to learn by also helping to run the club’s house league programs on weekends.

“After Sheridan, I got  a great opportunity to become a full time head coach for the same club I played for, and I have been doing that ever since,” said Clarke.

Club founder and president Kelly Smith is certainly proud of what Clarke was able to accomplish last season with the 16U Pakmen girls.

“The hedgehog wins in the end!” laughed an enthusiastic Smith. “Kadeem is a stickler for technique and strong fundamentals and every year his girls’ team has improved, but never won. This year, after three straight years coaching this team, their excellent fundamentals started to pay off with a gold at Provincials!”

Now that the team experienced success, Clarke is well aware of how difficult it will be to remain at the top.

“This year what’s next for the team is just helping the girls understand that volleyball at the 17U and 18U level is the closest thing to volleyball at its highest level,” said Clarke, adding he will take plenty of time with his fellow coaches and Hall, “to go over things on how we can maintain and improve on our success from last year.”