Vydykhan leads Cheetahs’ title hunt
Talia Vydykhan has had a lot to celebrate in 2019.
The 17-year-old from Hammonds Plains is in Volleyball Canada's pipeline after making the national youth team as an alternate this summer.
Two weeks ago she committed to play for the Dalhousie Tigers, one of the top volleyball teams in U Sports over the last several seasons.
But the star left-side hitter for the C.P. Allen Cheetahs would like to add a Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation Division 1 girls' volleyball title to her list of accomplishments before the calendar turns to 2020.
Vydykhan and her talented C.P. Allen Cheetahs teammates enter the provincial tournament at Riverview high school in Coxheath as the No.1 seed.
“I'm so excited because last year we didn't make it to provincials and this year being ranked No. 1, it's super exciting,” said Vydykhan.
The Cheetahs have already had an amazing season with a 38-2 record.
But the C.P. Allen girls want to go out in style by winning the school's first provincial girls' volleyball championship.
The Cheetahs got a big boost with the return of head coach Jordan Brooks, who took a year off to continue his education in New Brunswick. In the two previous years, Brooks led C.P. Allen to a pair of bronze-medal finishes.
“I think Jordan coming back was a big part of it, we really needed that coaching and competitiveness,” said Vydykhan. “Our team has a really good bond and chemistry. There is a ton of support and we're all very positive, competitive players which really helps.”
Brooks, who won three NSSAF titles as a player at Sackville High School, believes last year's failure to make provincials was an eye-opener for the Cheetahs.
“Last year the team didn't have near the success they wanted and I think it's a form of motivation, a wakeup call that it takes more than talent to have success,” said Brooks. “I think with them having that bad taste in their mouth, it has really pushed them to work their hardest, to have a successful season this year.”
Brooks said the Cheetahs have a lineup loaded with height and talent and that is a big advantage.
“Talia is the top player in the province and in my opinion, I think this team has two or three of the other top players in the province,” said Brooks. “When you have a really strong player like Talia surrounded by other fantastic players, it makes it really hard for the other side to know where the ball is going to go (on offence).”
Other key players are left-side hitter Alessandra Nadilini, rightside Lydia Green, middle hitter Tara Merrick, who are all fivefoot-nine or taller.
With all that offensive firepower, Brooks needed someone to deliver the ball to them.
“A big part of our success is our setter, Gabby Scollard,” said Brooks. “She took a year off volleyball last year and decided at the last minute to come back and play (this year).
"Gabby doesn't get as much credit as she deserves. She has come in and taken on, what I consider the most important role, and has done fantastic. Honestly, we wouldn't be where we are if she had decided not to play.”
Even with a star-studded lineup, a provincial girls' title is not guaranteed with teams such as the Cobequid Cougars, the No. 2 seed in the draw.
“This year is super competitive, every team that is going to provincials can beat anyone,” said Brooks. “You have to show up.
“CEC is there every single year, Mr. (Bob) Piers has won like 19 provincial championships over his career and he comes second every year he doesn't win it. We know they come into provincials really good every year. Lockview and Halifax West are also fantastic teams.”
C.P. Allen is in a pool with Riverview, Park View and Halifax West while Cobequid will battle with Horton, Lockview and Sydney Academy. Matches begin on Friday at 1 p.m. with the championship match at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Vydykhan said they know there is a target on their backs as the No. 1 seed.
“When we are in high-pressure situations we tend to stay pretty calm,” said the Cheetahs' co-captain. “When it comes to important times we are really competitive, really confident and that's what we are going to bring this weekend.”
Brooks has no doubt that Vydykhan will be ready on Friday. He has had a front-row seat to watch her development and gushes about her ability and leadership skills.
“Her serve is so big, it seems she always getting four or five points every time she goes back to the service line,” said Brooks. “She's always been someone who could hit the ball and serve the ball really hard and she's got fantastic skills for someone her height. When you combine height and strength with skills, it's not something you see every day and a big part of why she is such a special player.
“But the big thing we've been impressed with is her maturity level and ability to lead our team.”
A new champion will be crowned in the tournament at Port Hawkesbury's Strait Area Education Recreation Centre this weekend.
SAERC is in a pool with South Colchester, Digby and Millwood while Par-en-Bas, Sommet, Clare and Richmond will battle in the other pool.
Pomquet will host in a quest for its first NSSAF girls' title. Pomquet fresh of a Northumberland Region title win will take on Sacred Heart, NDA and East Antigonish in pool A. Inverness, Drumlin, Hants North and Ecole Truro are in pool B.
C.P. Allen Cheetahs' Talia Vydykhan warms up prior to a practice on Monday. Vydykhan leads the No. 1 seeded Cheetahs into the NSSAF Division 1 girls' provincial championship at Riverview high school in Coxheath.