On the cusp

As­cen­sion vol­ley­ball squad poised to do big things

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Vol­ley­balls are in con­stant mo­tion in­side the As­cen­sion Col­le­giate gym­na­sium.

With a pair of nets set up, the gym is di­vided into two courts as more than a dozen play­ers from the school’s male pro­gram are bump­ing, hit­ting and vol­ley­ing.

The shrill sound of sneak­ers squeak­ing against the floor and rub­ber hit­ting skin fill that air as the group moves through a se­ries of drills.

Both the se­nior male and ju­nior male teams re­cently re­turned from the Subway Clas­sic in Clarenville where they tested their me­tal against teams with a his­tory of strong vol­ley­ball pro­grams.

They are the pro­grams As­cen­sion hopes to one day match and by all in­di­ca­tions, the gap isn’t as far as some might be­lieve.

The Astros se­nior squad rat­tled of seven straight vic­to­ries be­fore los­ing to the host Clarenville A team in straight sets (25-9, 25-11) in the fi­nal. It was As­cen­sion’s fifth game of the day and the scores are sure to be more a re­sult of men­tal and phys­i­cal ex­haus­tion than a large gap in tal­ent base.

“There is still some work to do. As al­ways Clarenville is go­ing to be re­ally tough,” coach Stew­art Ralph told The Com­pass last Tues­day. “The boys have been wait­ing to win con­sec­u­tive matches and they’ve been wait­ing to get a medal. I think more than any­thing, it’s been re­ally good for their con­fi­dence.

“They’ve felt like they were a top-five team, but they’re com­pet­ing against those teams but not on a con­sis­tent ba­sis. In Clarenville, they won their first seven matches. That’s not to say they didn’t have chal­lenges along the way. They had ups and downs, but what they did, es­pe­cially in the semi­fi­nal, they showed me the pas­sion and the de­sire to win. A de­sire to leave every­thing on the floor.”

Tour­na­ments like the Subway Clas­sic are es­sen­tial for teams with a short com­pet­i­tive sea­son. They al­low teams to gauge where their tal­ent level is and what they need to work on in or­der to reach that next level.

“There are four prac­tices left be­fore Vol­leyfest, so two weeks,” said Ralph. “There are def­i­nitely some things I want to tweak, some ad­just­ments with the lineup that have to be made and the tech­ni­cal skills that we need to work on. Once they’re done, hope­fully they’ll even bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion against most of the teams we want to com­pete against.

“This week­end its Vol­leyfest and then we have our home tour­na­ment. I’d like to have us just about peak­ing then.”

It’s cycli­cal

While a lot of the fo­cus is on the se­nior team, there is an­other group in the gym work­ing along­side the older crowd.

With just a pair of Level IIs in the pro­gram and a strong group of Level Is, the fu­ture is bright for the As­cen­sion pro­gram. The se­nior team might be the torch­bear­ers for the team, but the ju­nior group will be tasked with car­ry­ing the name.

“We had a group of Grade 10s travel with us that I call the next cy­cle,” said Ralph. “I’ve been say­ing con­stantly to this Grade 12 group that you want to win, you want to com­pete, but don’t for­get you’re leav­ing a legacy here and that we’re get­ting vol­ley­ball back in the Con­cep­tion Bay North area thanks to your ef­forts and what you’ve done.

“I’m not say­ing I don’t want you to win, or you’re not go­ing to win, but you’re im­pact could last a decade. We’ve got two male pro­grams go­ing now at the same time and hope­fully that’s a trend that con­tin­ues.”

They had ups and downs, but what they did, es­pe­cially in the semi­fi­nal, they showed me the pas­sion and the de­sire to win. A de­sire to leave every­thing on the floor. Stew­art Ralph

Con­tri­bu­tions clear

To say the As­cen­sion club is the sole rea­son for giv­ing the sport new life in the area would be wrong and, quite frankly, it would sell short the role the CBN Vol­ley­ball Club played in its re­birth. The club has been around for the last sev­eral years and has 105 young ath­letes learn­ing the game.

Most of the ath­letes at­tend­ing this As­cen­sion prac­tice are a part of the club. They started learn­ing the finer points of the game there and are now turn­ing loose with that knowl­edge at the high school level.

“Play­ers are start­ing to get in our club now and that’s the thing we’re start­ing to see,” said Ralph, who also works with the vol­ley­ball club. “It’s been a huge piece of it. Vol­ley­ball is on the cusp.”

A close as ever

The se­nior team, with a cou- ple of ad­di­tions here and there, has largely con­sisted of the same group of play­ers since Level I. They’ve taken their lumps while learn­ing the game at a higher level and ap­pear primed to take that next step.

At least, that’s what the play­ers are feel­ing.

“We def­i­nitely want to win. We want to bring a ban­ner back,” said se­nior Brady Ryan.

From the sounds of it, if there was ever a year to do it for the As­cen­sion male team, now’s the time.

“It would mean every­thing to win with th­ese guys,” said Ryan. “It’s just been us the past three years. Since Grade 10, we were the se­nior team. It’s been the same eight or nine core guys. It would mean a lot more to win with this team than with a team thrown to­gether.”

PHO­TOS BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

As­cen­sion male vol­ley­ball coach Stew­art Ralph (right) gives point­ers to player Lu­cas Reid.

Se­nior team play­ers Nathan Pot­tle (left) and Cameron Covey­duck get ready to bump a ball dur­ing prac­tice.

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