Upstarts capture all-Pakmen 18U provincial final
By DAVID WINER
Before the two combatants took to the floor Sunday (Apr. 26) afternoon for the 18U gold medal match at the Ontario Volleyball Association championships at RIM Park in Waterloo, the winning club was already a certainty.
All that remained in doubt was which Pakmen players would wear the gold.
For the first time in OVA history, the 18U final was to be decided by two teams from one club, the upstart Pakmen Gold 17U team, which had already won its own age group, or the older Pakmen 18U team, whose members were counting on an extra year of experience.
When it was over, it was the younger 17U Pakmen, who rebounded from an initial 21-25 loss, to complete a double gold championship, winning 25-18, 16-14.
For club head coach Orest Stanko, who doubles as the 17U Gold coach, it was an evening filled with mixed feelings.
“This is a tough one,” admitted Stanko. “For the 18U athletes, this is their last year of rep volleyball. It would have been a memorable result for them to win the Provincial Championship. On some level, I am sympathetic. However, at the same time, I coach my athletes to compete, no matter who the opponent. I must admit, despite coaching for over 35 years, I still have not grown weary of winning.”
Stanko added that the Pakmen 18U squad can still win gold at the upcoming national championships in Calgary. “The disappointment this past weekend at the Provincial Championships notwithstanding, the 18U team has enjoyed an incredibly successful season and have won several tournaments including two very prestigious events in the U.S. The team still has an opportunity to win the National Championship, which I’m sure would help to mitigate some of the dejection of losing the Provincial Championship,” he said.
Stanko felt there were two major reasons for the outcome. “First and foremost, the 18U team had a much tougher semi-final against their nemesis, LVC Heat. On the other hand, we did not face very much adversity in our semi-final match versus the Predators. I suspect that the 18U team were not able to embrace quite the same level of emotion in preparation for the final.”
“From a technical perspective,” Stanko continued, “we certainly out-blocked the 18U team, which certainly made a difference, especially in the third and deciding set, when we fell behind 3-6 and then went on a six-point run to take the lead, 9-6…definitely the turning point. Blocking, as well as serving, proved to be the difference. Additionally, we made fewer unforced errors, which is always a key difference maker. We did receive key performances from Tomas Sorra, who came in to set in the second and third sets as well as Sharone Vernon-Davis, who delivered key kills, and Andrew Smondulak who delivered timely blocks that served to neutralize the 18U’s left-side attack.”
For his part, Vernon-Davis said, “It is an incredible feeling. We have accomplished something that was once only a dream. Owning this title means a lot to me. We made history on that court and it is something I will never forget.”
“To me,” added the towering left side, “This year has definitely been our greatest performance to date. We really came together as a team, and our coaching staff did an excellent job preparing us and keeping us grounded.”
While the win came at the expense of his older club mates, Vernon Davis looked at the result in a more practical, clinical manner. “Competition is competition,” he said. “I have many friends on the 18U team, but when we are on the court, all of that gets pushed aside. Whether it was another team or not, we would have fought just as hard.”
Teammate Jordan Figueira also admits to putting the blinders on when taking to the floor for a match. “Beating our own club in the finals did feel a little weird, but when we step on the court we ignore the faces on the other side of the net, and focus on playing our game. They are an amazing team and have had great success throughout the years, so it didn’t matter who we played, it would have felt amazing no matter what, considering the tough competition.” Figueira added the gold medal final did feel, in some ways, like a grudge match. “We did have the opportunity to play them earlier in the year in a regular season OVA tournament in the finals. We had a great first set, defeating them, but the game had to be called after the first set because of rough playing conditions. So it certainly did feel like our grudge match against them, and we knew we had to play our hearts out in order to beat them.” “I am overwhelmed with pride to win 18U provincials, and honestly, I’m still in shock with all of it,” added Figueira, a 6-foot setter from Oakville. “I feel honored to be a part of this team, and I can’t even begin to explain how much pride I have by being on the first 17U team to ever win 18U provincials. I do personally feel that winning the 18U gold meant a little more than the 17U gold because of the competition. Although our age group has very tough competition, the 18U division is by far the toughest in Ontario, and possibly even Canada for high school student athletes.”
While the season for both the 17U and 18U Pakmen is far from over, with a trip west to Calgary still on the agenda, Stanko took time to praise his players. “It goes without saying, I am extremely proud of everyone on the team,” he said. “It has been a privilege to work with all of the athletes. Also, I must acknowledge all of the parents, who have been very supportive, and who must share in our success as a team.”
The 17U Pakmen advanced to the final with 2-0 sweeps of the Barrie Elites, Pakmen 17U Black, Aurora Storm, Leaside Thunder, Hamilton MAC, Windsor Riverside in the quarters, and Kitchener Predators in the semi-finals, while needing three sets to topple the Stratford Cobras.
The 18U Pakmen, on the other hand, swept the Mississauga Selects, Windsor Riverside, Kingston Pegasus and Kitchener Predators in the preliminaries, before needing three sets to defeat Durham Attack Black, and being swept in a match against the Scarborough Titans, before rebounding to edge Leaside Thunder in the quarters and London Fire Heat in the semi-finals.
Other members of the 17U Pakmen include, Jonathan Reid, Jak Paterson, Liam Butchereit, Parvir Jhajj, Alex Reiner, Tucker Johnson, Andrew Smondula, Joel Lillycrop, Malcolm Prentice and assistants Phillip Rodrigues, Karim Khalil and Aleksander Mamuzic.