On the cusp
Ascension volleyball squad poised to do big things
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.”
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
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.”
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.