The Lasalle Lancers senior boys volleyball team might be in a league of their own relative to SDSSAA competition this fall, but the battle behind them is proving quite interesting.
Youth is being served with both the Lo-Ellen Park Knights and St. Benedict Bears, and when the South End rivals traded volleys last week, Lo-Ellen emerged victorious in four sets, 25-22, 8-25, 25-19, 25-21.
The Knights improved to 2-0 in the early going, having also vanquished the St. Charles College Cardinals in four sets, all while focusing heavily on core fundamentals with a team that replaced half of their starting lineup from last year.
"We work a lot on the basics - the correct angle of your arms (on serve receive), your feet, just basic volleyball skills," said captain Derek De Luisa.
In his mind, the turning point came late in the second set, when coach Tanis Van Wallegham delivered a key message to her team.
"They did have a good set in that one, and we did make a lot of errors," said De Luisa. "Our coach called a timeout late in the second set. That was to tell us not to worry about that set, just try and gain some momentum for the next set, and that's what we tried to do."
The approach paid dividends, as Lo-Ellen, like many of their counterparts, look to get a feel for where exactly they fit into the mix of SDSSAA volleyball this year.
"Our goal, this year, is just to try and get as far as possible," said De Luisa.
"Hopefully OFSAA, but it's also a rebuilding year, so next year should be nice too. I think we can end up top four in the league. There are some strong teams - Lasalle, Lockerby - but we also haven't seen that many teams yet this year."
Across the court, Cambrian Golden Shield alumnus returns for a fifth year with the Bears' volleyball program, and his third season with a core of his current squad. With just three grade 12 athletes on board, the St. Benedict crew is even younger than the Knights that they faced on this night.
Still, Root is convinced that progress can certainly be made with the talent on hand.
"The biggest thing I am seeing is that our guys are not as ready to release, they're still working through their transitions from defensive blocking to offense," he said.
"That's really what is hurting our game at the moment. Other than that, our passing has come up, and we've now got a consistent setter (Sean Nickson) that we can continue to develop. After playing the Lasalle guys, we realized a few things that we needed to work on."
"Passing with our hands on serve receive, and our setter's willingness to move his feet to get to the ball," Root added. "Those two pieces I was definitely happy with tonight. We now know what our plan is for next practice."
The win for the Lo-Ellen seniors avenged the junior match which preceded it, as St Benedict improved to 3-1 with a five-set, 22-25, 25-19, 25-8, 22-25, 15-12 win over the Knights.
Local tournament action ramps up between now and the end of the month, with events planned for St Charles College (Oct. 13-14), Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay (Scarlett & Gold Tournament – Oct. 20-21), and the Lasalle Lancers Invitational (Oct. 27-28).