Cambrian College men’s volleyball coach Tom Sutton has plenty of experience working with younger talent, often times quite raw in terms of their background in the sport they are now pursuing at a varsity level.
This time around, however, he would dearly love to see the fruits of his labour, a final product that has time to blossom.
“We have setters who should be here for three to four years, whereas I’ve had high turnover the past few years, which makes it hard,” said Sutton at practice last week. Truth be told, that mountain is almost insurmountable when one factors in the standard foundation from which the long-time volleyball coach is building from, by comparison to most other OCAA programs.
Perhaps more than most years, Sutton finds himself mining some highly unpolished diamonds, young men armed with a certain amount of athleticism, even if the concept of club volleyball was nowhere to be seen in the sporting repertoire.
“I was a hockey player growing up, played some junior hockey,” noted second year middle and co-captain Mitch Reid. “I realized they had a volleyball program and I wanted to do something to keep active.” In a sense, this summarizes the dilemma facing Sutton and his coaching staff. For starters, the game that Reid and his brethren have seen previously bears precious little reasemblance to what they are about to face as members of the Golden Shield.
“The speed of the game is a lot quicker than the highest level of volleyball that I would have played,” conceded Reid. “I notice it mostly on defense. Having to try and dig balls out that are coming at you that fast is a lot harder at this level.”
This is not to suggest that the Cambrian lads are not capable of closing the gap. “It was tough having to learn how to read setters, when to go and when not to go, all that sort of stuff,” said Reid. “My blocking got ten times better than I was at the start of the year. And my vertical – switching from hockey, which is straight line, to volleyball, which is up and down, I had to train different muscles.”
Nineteen year old Brennen Chaput is in his first year of the Business program at Cambrian, a Macdonald-Cartier graduate who was a true multi-sport athlete during his time with the Panthères. “I played pretty much every sport, but I enjoyed volleyball more than the other ones, it was a little more fun.”
Like Reid, Chaput immediately noticed the difference when the likes of Fanshawe, Redeemer and Niagara replace what were previously scheduled games against Horizon, Lockerby and Sacré-Coeur. “The biggest thing is that the ball moves a lot quicker than in high school, just in general,” said Chaput.
“Every hit, everything is just a lot faster. You just need to practice, to learn to see when the ball comes at you. For me, my offense is starting to click. My defense is probably my weaker suit. We’re working on it, always trying to catch up.”
Coach and players are completely on the same page when it comes to the likelihood for improvement within this particular core of talent. The caveat, as is often the case, remains the willingness to put in the time to show the progress. It is a development that is most often measured in years.
“This is just a good group of guys, number one, and that’s a good starting point,” suggested Sutton. “They were a little hesitant early, now they’re talking a lot more, and that’s a big thing. Before, when things got a little tight, they were very quiet. Now, they’re continuing to talk, coming together as a team.”
“We had been progressively getting better, then unfortunately, had a bit of a downturn last weekend (vs Conestoga),” noted Sutton. “We have not really consolidated everything, but we are running a bit more of a multi-faceted offense early this year, which we weren’t able to do before. That should help us with some scoring as the season progresses.”
“We’re a lot younger this year,” acknowledged Reid, with the departure of Isaac Claveau the most noticeable absence from one year ago. “A couple of weeks ago, we had a couple of kids who just turned eighteen. It’s been interesting, but it’s been fun. There’s a lot more promise, a lot more development here than there was last year.”
Those steps forward, even if relatively small, at the moment, can be seen right across the lineup. They are often a function of skills that are not tied in to hours and hours of previous volleyball practice experience. “My ability to learn and pay attention is key,” said Chaput. “I’m pretty quick on my feet.”
“I’m looking forward to playing everybody, just getting some court time and getting out there and playing.” Sutton, for his part, also sees one other very promising sign, this one evidenced as he visited the college prior to tryouts and came across a pair of returning vets in the weight room. “We’re strong, very strong,” he stated.
“When you’re strong, you jump higher, you hit harder, you get injured less. Most volleyball players are a lot heavier than you would think. They just hide it in a lanky body. Look at Isaac Claveau, one of the hardest hitters in the league last year. He could dead lift 450 (pounds), he could bench press 350 – it didn’t stop him from jumping, carrying the mass. If you do the right exercises, you can actually jump higher.”
All in good time, something that coach Sutton is really hoping his current crop of Cambrian volleyball talent will provide him.
The 2017-2018 Cambrian men’s volleyball roster is comprised of Taylor Cafley, Curtis Swereda, William Southwind, Utah Recollet-McGregor, Eric Williams, Mike Aiabens, Mitchell Reid, Lucas Claveau, Devin Gelaznikas, Scott Williams, Brandon Moxam, Cole Krassey, Josh Kneblewski, Brennen Chaput, Ryan Martel, Haydn Lothian and Chester Ashby.