Playoff Hopes for Volleyball Squad
A heart-breaking four set loss to the Mohawk Mountaineers on Jan. 13 could easily have spelled the end of the playoff hopes for the Cambrian Golden Shield women’s volleyball team.
Matched against a very even opponent in an encounter that seemed awfully close to a “must win” affair, the locals were handed a 25-27, 25-23, 25-27, 18-25 setback, with the Cambrian record sitting at 3-8 once the weekend came to a close with a loss to the second place Niagara Knights.
The Shield dusted themselves off a week later, taking down the Sheridan Bruins on Jan. 21 in four sets. Even a loss to the Humber Hawks provided a highlight, as the Northern Ontario squad became just the second team, all year, to steal even one set from the #2 ranked team in the country.
Completing their season sweep over the Redeemer Royals at home this past Friday, the Cambrian women vaulted themselves back in the mix of the post-season discussion, with winnable outings against the Boréal Vipères (0-14) and Conestoga Condors (2-12) directly ahead, and the Shield now within striking distance of both Redeemer (6-8) and Sheridan (6-9) with their mark improved to 5-9.
Somehow, the team found a way to put a very tough loss behind them. “We’ll focus a bit on where we’ve struggled, in terms of some key technical aspects of volleyball, we focus on minimizing those errors, and then that weekend is over and it’s time to focus on what’s new,” suggested third year middle Jill Vallier.
While the Golden Shield returned a set of veteran attackers that featured Amanda Kring, Kailey Bastien and Hayley Chisholm, in addition to Vallier, the challenge in 2016-2017 would be to work in their second new setter in the past three years.
There was no denying that natural athleticism that Lasalle Secondary graduate Kendra Muffo possessed. But the intricacies of setting are demanding, even for OCAA freshmen with plenty of club volleyball experience at the position. Muffo’s background included little to no time spent as a setter.
“At the beginning of the season, it took a little patience,” noted Vallier. “In fairness, she (Muffo) had played left side for competitive and school. Once she got the basics, it was a matter of fine-tuning for each of us and what we need.”
In fact, the challenge goes far beyond the subtle variances that arise when one is setting to middle, right-side or power. Even Bastien and Vallier, both of whom swing from the middle position, offer their own unique targets for the rookie setter.
“We jump to a different height, so we need the ball in a different place, and we turn and face the setter a little differently,” Vallier admitted. “Usually my set is about two inches lower than Kailey, and I like mine just a little bit faster than hers.”
To her credit, Muffo has tackled the challenge at hand with unbridled enthusiasm, the same mindset she would display when first approached about making the move to a new position. “(Coach) Dale (Beausoleil) first approached me at the co-ed tournament, last year, when I was setting for the guys,” recalled Muffo.
“I just pretty much said that I would do anything to help the team. And honestly, there were also four power hitters already here, so it was better for me to get more experience to help them, and help myself.”
More than a quarter century of coaching at the college would come in handy, for Beausoleil, as his eased his incoming talent through the process of adaptation. “As an athlete, I’ve always been pretty hard on myself, and setting is a lot of pressure,” Muffo conceded.
“You have to know a lot about the other team and where they’re going, and what hitters are putting it down for you. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of thinking. Mentally, I’m getting a lot more volleyball IQ, which is good.”
“At the beginning of the season, I really didn’t notice where their blockers were going,” Muffo continued. “Now, I’m starting to be more visual with that. I’m getting a lot more one on ones.” Simultaneously, she was developing that timing and chemistry with her own teammates, one of the keys, no doubt, to running an effective offense at this level.
“You definitely have to know your hitters,” said Muffo. "Some are faster, some are slower, some like the ball a little higher – and then it also all depends on how you like to run your offense, too.”
Sure, there were times against Mohawk when it all seemed to click. Then the Shield would struggle, and with an unforgiving schedule with Humber on the horizon, things were not looking good. The bounce-back, from the Cambrian women, was impressive, to say the least.
“The set that we took off Humber, I think, was the best volleyball that we had ever played,” suggested Muffo. Building on that, through the remaining four regular season outings, will be critical.
“We have to keep up the same toughness and attitude that we showed against Humber when we play other teams,” Vallier agreed. “We need to learn to win when the points are over twenty, to make sure we play our best ball at that point."