Access to Atikokan athletic talent a Cambrian key

The Cambrian College soccer teams, most notably the women’s squad, have often been built around a solid core of Sudbury and area talent. Golden Shield men’s volleyball coach Tom Sutton, for his part, has had to expand his horizons a little further than that.

In siblings Scott and Eric Williams, as well as rookie Cole Krassey, the program has welcomed a trio of graduates of the Atikokan High School Voyageurs, a perhaps somewhat surprising source of volleyball talent.

In those parts, as in these parts, sporting excellence doesn’t always start on the court. “My parents were all about hockey,” noted 5’9” sophomore left side attacker Scott Williams. “My dad played a lot of hockey when he was younger, some junior hockey, so I was immediately thrown into that when I was like three.”

“I didn’t get into sports like volleyball or basketball or that until elementary school, probably grade six.” If hockey roots grew close to home, the same could be said, to almost the same degree, for the athletic endeavour that is volleyball.

“My mother and my aunt are both grade seven and eight teachers, and they were the first real volleyball coaches we had,” Williams reminisced. “They both played university ball. Most of the teams we were playing had a basic rotation where whoever played right side is the setter. We had a set rotation in grade seven and eight that was far more advanced than the rest.”

In fact, the concept is one that would follow both Williams and his fellow Voyageurs all the way through to the OCAA circuit in which they currently compete. “When they serve, you want to have the people that we want passing the ball passing it, and the people we want hitting are tucked away, so they don’t have to pass,” explained Williams.

“Once you know whose supposed to be beside you, or whose in front of you, or whose across from you, it’s not hard to figure out where you’re supposed to be and who you’re supposed to be in between. We’re using the same rotation here I used in grade eight.”

Unfortunately, that similarity in the game is dwarfed by the differences one encounters when moving from a really good high school team – Atikokan High School finished fifth at OFSAA the year Williams completed grade 12 – to the reality that is facing the likes of Fanshawe, Redeemer and Humber on a regular basis.

“I definitely have to be a lot smarter about where I hit the ball, how hard I hit the ball,” noted the second year Power Engineering student. “A lot of guys are blocking two feet over the net, so you either have to hit it off their arms or fingertips, or find a gap to try and break the block.”

Defensively, things don’t get any easier. “You have to be ten times quicker, on defense, compared to high school, to be in set position, otherwise you’re just running around like a chicken with his head cut off. It’s also a matter of reading the play.”

“If a hitter is going up to hit and his arm swing slows down, right away, you know he’s going to tip,” Williams continued. “You need to think ahead and creep forward. In high school, you weren’t thinking about things like that. You just kind of waited for the ball to come over and reacted to it.”

Up against the 9-2 Redeemer Royals on Saturday in Hamilton, Williams and the Golden Shield were more than respectable in a 17-25, 13-25, 21-25 three set loss, dropping their season mark to 1-10. It’s a setting where perspective is everything.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s still fun,” said Williams. “Our team is such a great group of guys to be around. If you’re losing but the team is still playing well, it still makes it fun.” While that might be true, the competitive nature that stems directly from being the product of two sports-minded parents leaves Williams wanting more.

“Our team has a lot of ups and downs in different games,” he acknowledged. “Against a top team, we can play the best we’ve ever played, and then we come up against a team that we can really compete against and for some reason, we just don’t show up. It’s all in the mind.”

The Cambrian volleyball men are back at home this weekend, welcoming the St Clair Saints (6-5) from Windsor to Sudbury for a 4:00 p.m. matchup on Saturday. Their traditional mid-week encounter with the Collège Boréal Vipères follows suit on Wednesday, January 24th, as the teams trade volleys at the francophone post-secondary institution just off the Lasalle extension.

The Cambrian women improved to 4-7 last Saturday, spotting Redeemer a one set lead before bouncing back to take down the Royals 23-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-21. Hayley Chisholm paced the attack with 11 kills, with Amanda Kring (9), Jillian Vallier (7) and Emily Clark (6) also chipping in offensively.