District volleyball players will be put to the ultimate test at the Ontario Summer Games.
Three girls and eight boys were selected to represent the Region 1 14U teams at the Games, which are slated for Aug. 2-5 in London, Ont.
Making up the girls' squad are Fort Frances natives Aurora Hutton and Kaylyn Levesque along with Ciera Ogden of Emo.
On the boys' side, Fort natives Ashton Cousineau, Declan Webb, Jaxon Gartzke, Joseph Hardy, Peyton Avis, Tristin Yerxa, and Zakary Kellar were selected along with Cael Anderson of Atikokan.
These young athletes attended open tryouts back in March and impressed the coaches and will have a lot expected out of them at the Regional High Performance Camp that will be held prior to the Games
“Tryouts were definitely tough and the coaches looked at overall skill, but also how each athlete would fit into their roles on the team as well as what each athlete could accomplish after intensive training for six days at the Regional Camp at the High Performance Centre with some of Ontario's best coaches,” said Region 1 girls' coach Amy Wilson-Hands.
“Some of these athletes will be looked to for leading their team, for their defensive skills, and for the big hit or a big block.”
At the Regional camp and the Games, there is no specific positioning, so each athlete will need to learn how to do everything in every position.
“Someone who primarily plays setter will need to learn how to hit, pass and middle block,” explained Wilson-Hands.
"Someone who primarily plays middle blocker will have to learn to play defence in the back row and hit from the outside.
“There is also no Libero position, so each position has to play defence without the help of a defensive specialist,” she added.
"This helps create better overall players.
“Someone who might be tall right now and where most coaches would put them in the middle to block, might have really good hands and be an incredible setter but might never have had the chance to play that position, but not in this case because they are going to play everything and everywhere,” Wilson-Hands noted.
New to this year's Ontario Summer Games is that the Regional High Performance Camp will be used as the team's training time.
In previous years, regions were to practice on their own, which was difficult for Region 1 given its location from the Manitoba border east to Marathon.
This year, the Ontario Volleyball Association is not allowing any region to practice beforehand but only during the Regional High Performance Camp, which will be held prior to the Ontario Summer Games.
Athletes will train with their region, university/college, and Team Ontario coaches, and each region will have the same training along with training time.
“These athletes will go through the most rigorous volleyball training they have ever been apart of,” said Wilson-Hands.
“Their schedule is filled with two on-court sessions a day, strength and conditioning, recovery periods, classroom sessions, team meetings and team bonding events,” she added.
“They will be involved in method 1, method 2, and method 3 drills, which I am quite certain will be their first time being introduced to these type of drills.” Wilson-Hands conceded that in the past it was tough to get in the practice time that was needed for success at the Games.
“It was tough to get together to have more than two practices a week because of the distance the athletes has to travel,” she reasoned.
“It also resulted in costing the parents/guardians a lot of money with gas, food and hotels, as well as it took each weekend away during the summer.”
Other regions are much closer distance wise, with Region 1 stretching from the Manitoba border east to Marathon, so they were able to practice five-six times a week which meant they had a lot more touches on the ball and more time to gel as a team.
“This time around, all regions will be together at the high performance centre with the same training from the same coaches,” noted Wilson-Hands.
“The athletes will work with their own regions but also will be split into training groups with athletes from all the other regions, which will introduce them to different skill levels, as well as new athletes they might not have otherwise ever met.”
Wilson-Hands believes that competing at the Games will be beneficial for the young athletes and their potential future with the national team.
“This whole experience is the first part in the high performance stream and the first step in the "pyramid" towards the national team,” she explained.
"It will expose these athletes to training that mirrors that of Team Ontario to help prepare them for the next step, which is being evaluated for the High Performance Centre which results in a tryout for Team Ontario.
“These athletes will be seen by college and university coaches, Team Ontario coaches, Youth National coaches, as well as Junior National coaches,” she added.
“For some of these athletes, this will be the highest level they will ever compete at,” Wilson-Hands stressed.
"No tournament or competition will be like that of the Ontario Summer Games, unless, of course, they are selected to compete for Team Ontario at the Canada Games in 2021.
“The Ontario Summer Games are a multi-sport competition, so think like the Olympics but on a much smaller scale,” Wilson-Hands said.
Wilson-Hands said that it is very prestigious for the players to make their regional team and one these athletes cannot take lightly as it can lead to bigger and better opportunities moving forward.
“It is the memories made that they will never forget and will carry with them forever,” she reasoned.
"These athletes will go back to their school teams and club teams with much more knowledge of the game, better skills, and will have a sense of leadership which I hope they will share with their teammates.
“In saying that, I encourage all current athletes going into Grade 7 and Grade 8 to try out for the Region 1 team next time around,” she stressed.
“The more athletes we have try out for Region 1, the more competitive of a team we will have and the sport will continue to grow.”
Wilson-Hands also noted that she has been working with the OVA to help Region 1 become more involved with the OVA high performance streams.
Next summer, athletes currently headed to Grade 8 (14U) will have the chance to attend the Regional Camp for a week and train alongside Team Ontario.
“We had two athletes attend last summer—Declan Webb and Josh McGinnis,” she noted.
"Another thing we are currently working on is to run a high performance camp for Region 1 athletes in Northwestern Ontario, sometime in the new year.
“[That] will result in each athlete being evaluated and those in the "potential" category will be invited to attend the High Performance Centre next summer,” Wilson-Hands explained.
"During their time at the High Performance Centre, they will be evaluated for Team Ontario.
“If they are chosen for Team Ontario, they will stay at the High Performance Centre and continue to train with the team and then will head to the Canada Cup to compete against Provincial teams from across Canada,” she added.
“Last summer, all of the Team Ontario teams did very well. On the female side, Team Ontario Black won gold and Team Ontario Red won bronze. On the male side, Team Ontario Black won gold and Team Ontario Red won silver.”