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Pursuit: March Break means elite training for local volleyballer

Mia Lemay-Evans is in British Columbia this week to train with Team Ontario’s elite volleyball group
Mia Lemay-Evans of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club is in British Columbia this week to train with Team Ontario’s elite volleyball group.

With the March Break now upon us, many local high school athletes will take full advantage to get the heck out of Dodge, typically to sun-wrapped destinations, though not always.

Collège Notre-Dame senior volleyball star Mia Lemay-Evans is definitely one of those students. Most will raise their feet and enjoy some well deserved rest and relaxation). Mia Lemay-Evans is definitely not one of those students.

A long-time member of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club , the 16-year-old recently learned she had been selected to be part of Team Ontario – Elite, a group of some 15 or so skilled U17 and U18 provincial-calibre athletes who are in Richmond. B.C., this week for — as the name suggests — elite training.

Already on the radar thanks to her performance at Ontario Volleyball Association-sanctioned (OVA) tryouts last summer, Lemay-Evans joined three dozen or so young women for selection camps in October and December, 2022. That group was whittled down by more than half for this high-end March Break session.

“I was really nervous at the first camp and didn’t feel that I did my greatest,” noted the 6-2 middle. “It was also early in the season. I felt that I did OK, but could have done better. After the second camp, I thought it went a lot better than the first. I felt really good after that camp because I felt that I showed what I could do.”

What Lemay-Evans can do is fairly obvious to anyone who watches her play, whether that be on the left side when suiting up with the CND Alouettes or in her more familiar role as a middle with the Chill, also the position she will patrol with the provincial crew this week.

“I think I am a lot better now at reading the other team and their setter,” said Lemay-Evans. “I’m faster at closing my blocks and getting to the blocks. I’m getting used to playing at higher speeds.”

For the volleyball faithful, the notion of “closing the blocks”, especially as a middle, is very much second nature. For the casual fan perhaps not so much. Lemay-Evans offers an explanation for the volleyball-uninformed.  

“It’s just getting to the outside, getting right beside the outside blocker so that there is no gap between the blockers.”

That said, the youngest of two girls — her older sister, Alexia, is just finishing off her rookie season with the Acadia Axewomen of the Atlantic University Sport conference — is among those who would contend that having some variety, in terms of positions played over the course of the year, is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

“I like having the flexibility, being able to play a different position if I need to,” she said. “The blocking is not exactly the same (from middle to left side), but it is similar.”

It’s that kind of adaptability that comes in quite handy when you are competing in workouts with the very best volleyballers in Ontario. Gone is the comfort that comes, offensively speaking, with the familiarity of practicing with the same setter right through the entire winter. The camp this week is very much an all-star collection of talent from all sorts of varying club systems.

“Honestly, it’s not that hard to find the connection,” Lemay-Evans said. “It takes a few sets, but the setters are so good there that after a couple of sets, they know exactly how to give me the ball.”

Though they may be fierce adversaries at OVA tournaments from November to April, those who come together for these types of special gatherings do so largely due to the shared bond of sport. 

“Once we are at Team Elite, we all get along, we all talk,” she said. “We usually chat about volleyball — I think because we all have volleyball in common.”

There is, in many ways, a mutual respect that tends to develop very quickly.

“There are some girls here that hit the ball so hard and so fast, so straight down, it’s crazy,” Lemay-Evans said. “I think it will be cool to get out to B.C. and train with some high-level coaches.”

‘B.C.’ might not be the Bahamas or the Caribbean, but for rising star Mia Lemay-Evans, British Columbia will do just fine for the 2023 March Break. 

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.