Her team may not have tasted victory at this year's Ontario Summer Games but Region One girls' 14U volleyball coach Amy Wilson-Hands believes all the athletes can use the experience as a building block moving forward.
The squad—which featured locals Aurora Hutton and Kaylyn Levesque, as well as Ciera Ogden of Emo—compiled an 0-7 record while not winning a single set through preliminary play at the Games, which were held Aug. 2-5 in London, Ont.
After losing in the quarter-finals to Region Five Black in straight sets (9-25/4-25), Region One also fell in straight sets to Region Four Black (2-25/16-25) in the fifth/seventh classification game to finish the tournament in last place.
“The athletes had exceeded all of the coaches' expectations, the competition from elsewhere in the province is always tough,” Wilson-Hands noted.
“They have been playing year-round since they were nine-10 years old, whereas most of our Region One athletes have just started being introduced to the sport,” she explained.
“Our athletes had the most to learn but also developed the most over our training time,” Wilson-Hands added.
“They impressed coaches from all over the province with their willingness to learn, their development, as well as their tenacity,” she lauded.
There was no specific positioning during the Games so each athlete had to learn how to play every position on the court.
Someone who primarily plays setter had to learn how to hit, pass, and middle block while someone who normally would play middle blocker had to learn to play defence in the back row and hit from the outside.
There also was no libero position, so each position had to play defence without the help of a defensive specialist.
“The emphasis from the mentor coaches, as well as regional coaching staff, was always about development and not about winning the medals—hence fair play and no subbing allowed,” Wilson-Hands said.
“We are preparing these athletes for provincial teams, post-secondary teams, as well as—hopefully—our national team,” she noted.
Wilson-Hands praised the hard work and dedication by Hutton, Ogden, and Levesque and believes all three showcased what they can do out on the court.
“We adjusted Aurora Hutton's serve and she is now one force to be reckoned with,” she remarked.
"She has a hybrid serve [float-and-spin] which resulted in quite a few aces for our team.
“Aurora caught the attention of quite a few coaches, which is going to result in a lot of good things happening for her in the future,” Wilson-Hands added.
“Ciera Ogden is definitely up-and-coming and will be a complete powerhouse with the right coaching,” she noted.
"She is aggressive and wants to get better.
“She [Ogden] dealt with a slight concussion near the beginning of camp and I know how devastating it was for her,” Wilson-Hands revealed.
“But thankfully, [she] was cleared for our second game and she did not hold back, getting a massive block and a big kill.”
As for Levesque, Wilson-Hands said she's the type of player you want on your team.
“She is very encouraging to her teammates, her coachability is through the roof, and she tries extremely hard,” she lauded.
“We worked on her passing, as she was one who has been taught to pass everything mid-line, so getting her out of that comfort zone was a bit challenging,” Wilson-Hands admitted.
"But when she let go and recognized that she could pass outside her body, with the proper coaching, her passing changed for the better in a big way.
“All of the athletes also have been very receptive to the mental training, as well as self-reflecting after each session,” Wilson-Hands added.
“We debriefed as a team each night, as well, and the athletes made a daily affirmations poster which was hung by their dorm bed for them to read each morning.”
Moving forward, Wilson-Hands is hopeful her athletes will continue to use what they've learned while at the regional camp, which was held prior to the Games, from the mentors and coaches.
“I hope they pass on what they have learned to their teammates, continue to aim to become better athletes, as well as push to make the High Performance Centre next summer and be evaluated for Team Ontario and then work to play post-secondary,” she said.
"My hope is they do not stop striving to be the best athletes that they can be.
“I believe these athletes might have doubted their abilities when we first arrived to camp, but I now know they know what they are capable of,” she lauded.
“These athletes have accomplished something that no one in Region One has and that is representing the north for volleyball at the Ontario Summer Games and that, in itself, is something huge.”
The next stop for the girls is the selection camp in February, where those attending will be evaluated to go to the High Performance Centre next summer.
“[Co-coach] Terry Ogden and I are also working on a NWO Regional High Performance Camp for next summer, as well,” Wilson-Hands said.
“Top Ontario mentors/coaches, like Keith Wasylik [who has more than 30 years' experience with the national teams] and Sean Pellow [a Level 4 coach and head coach at Fanshawe College], will come down and run a high-performance camp for our athletes while also running a coaches' clinic to be able to certify more coaches in this area,” she noted.
“Big things are happening for Region One,” Wilson-Hands stressed.
On the boys' side, Region One suffered the same fate as their female counterparts.
The squad—which featured locals Ashton Cousineau, Declan Webb, Jaxon Gartzke, Joseph Hardy, Peyton Avis, Tristin Yerxa, and Zakary Kellar, along with Cael Anderson of Atikokan—compiled an 0-7 record in preliminary play, winning just a single set.
Region One lost in straight sets in the quarter-finals to Region Three Black (10-25/4-25), then dropped the fifth/seventh classification match in straight sets to Region Six (17-25/10-25) to finish in last place.