Smith Leaves 17U Pakmen in Good Hands

Pakmen Volleyball Coach Matt Harris and 16U Champions Team

Pakmen Volleyball Coach Matt Harris (right) and 16U Champions Team

By DAVID WINER

Kelly Smith didn’t have to search far and wide for a replacement when he decided to take a one-year break from coaching late last year.

While guiding his 16U Pakmen team to back-to-back Provincial and Eastern Canadian indoor titles, the Pakmen Volleyball Club founder and President could rest comfortably knowing his charges would remain in good hands come the 2017 indoor season.

Smith didn’t have to look any further than the Volleyball Canada Centre of Excellence (VCCE) program run out of the Pakmen club to find a coach of all coaches, Matt Harris.

Harris has made volleyball a life-time commitment and passion, with close to 20 years of experience teaching and coaching at the university, high school, club and high performance levels.

While Harris will continue to act as assistant coach for the Ryerson Rams men’s volleyball program under the helm of Dustin Reid, he will shift over from the VCCE program to head up the 17U Pakmen.

Spending much of the summer coaching the Team Ontario 18u Boys team at both the US High Performance Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as the Canada Games in Winnipeg, Harris hasn’t had time to get acquainted with last year’s players. However, he is certainly familiar with most of the club members through the VCCE program.

He helped recruit Pakmen graduates Jordan Baric and Navreet Singh Suhan to the Rams this off-season, and coached Suhan Navreet, Saad Shaikh, Matthew Powell and brothers Cole and Xander Ketrzynski on the 18U provincial team which won gold in the International Division in Florida, and is currently competing in Winnipeg.

Team Ontario knocked off some powerhouse teams to capture the gold, including an American Youth National team preparing for the World Championships, as well as two experienced California teams, and leading the way was Xander Ketrzynski, who was named tournament MVP.

“I have not spoken to any players yet, (because) I’ve been away all summer,” said Harris, adding, “I’m very excited to work with this team. They are very talented and committed to getting better.”

While tryouts for the team will take place in September, it’s expected most of the players from the past two championship seasons will be returning. But Harris isn’t fazed by the pressure that will come with taking over such a successful team.

“Pressure for me is whether I can succeed in turning young teenagers into young adults and getting the team to play its best at the end of the year,” said Harris.

Harris will have last year’s assistant coaches Franco Rugosi and Alex Ketrzynski to lean on for support.

While Smith plans to step away from coaching for the upcoming season, he plans to return for the following indoor campaign.

And Smith is comforted with the knowledge he has a person he can count on running his group of champions.

“(Matt) is widely respected by both players and coaches in our sport and it’s been a priority to get him on the Pakmen team,” said Smith when he recruited Harris for the VCCE program. “His passion for the game, expertise in the sport, and integrity as a person fits perfectly into the Pakmen model. Every club wanted Matt, knowing he was coming available, and we are thrilled he chose Pakmen.

Harris will take over a mentally tough group of players that Smith credited as being “the most resilient” 16U team he has ever coached with no fewer than three comeback victories at the National Championships.

Leading the charge at last year’s Nationals were Cole and Xander Ketrzynski’s brother Trent, as well as Luca Nastase, who were named to the all-star team, as well as tournament MVP Peter Rugosi.