OAKVILLE – History, to most, is a simple true or false question; it either happened or it didn’t. But in the world of sports – like shining a light through a prism and seeing different colours – it can be much more subjective depending on the angle at which you view it.
Photo: Mohawk Athletics
In the case of the 2012-13 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association men’s volleyball season, the Nipissing Lakers did not play perfect from beginning-to-end, but they saved their most sublime play for when it mattered most and after holding off a Mohawk Mountaineers squad that gave them all they could handle in five sets (25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-7), they were crowned provincial champions.
“Words can’t really describe; it hasn’t really sunken in. I’m so happy for my guys, we’ve been so up-and-down all year,” Nipissing head coach Eric Yung said after Saturday’s (Feb.23) banner-winning effort.
“We’ve had some battles, injuries, not playing to our potential, made a lot of mistakes on my part as a coach [but] it’s been a great experience so far. I’m very happy for my senior players who worked so hard for me the last few years. No one deserves it more than them.”
The early stages of the opening set was like a tug-of-war, with neither side holding more than a four-point advantage.
Leading 15-14, Nipissing reeled seven straight points to jump ahead 22-15 and then closed out the set 25-16.
The second frame was a similar story, only this time with Mohawk taking charge. The Mountaineers led 20-16 and scored five of the final nine points to level the match at a set apiece, with a 25-20 win.
The narrative of the match followed a similar arc in the third set with the Lakers’ biggest lead being four, 12-8, only to see Mohawk pull in front 18-17. Nipissing then leap-frogged the Mountaineers, leading 20-18, and were able to sideout on the opportunities Mohawk had to return to the service line, claiming the set 25-21 with Taylor Bielby capping the scoring off of a one-on-one stuff block.
Facing elimination for the first time in the post-season, the Mountaineers staked themselves to leads of 5-2 and 7-5, before Nipissing pulled in front 10-7.
That lead was extended as high as four, 15-11, but Mohawk refused to let their hopes end there and were relentless on the block – not always getting them down on the floor, but extending plays long enough to give themselves opportunities – and a 6-0 run gave them a 17-15 lead.
They would not relinquish it either, forcing the match to its limit with a 25-21 win.
Mohawk would serve to start the fifth set and that allowed the Lakers to get off to a good start when Bielby dumped the second ball to the middle of the floor, giving Nipissing a 1-0 lead, that quickly turned into 3-0 after a pair of blocks.
After re-grouping in a timeout, Mohawk clawed its way back to within one, only to see the Lakers pull the carpet out from underneath them by scoring six of the next seven points to lead 9-3.
From that point, Mohawk could never get closer than that five-point cushion.
Nipissing would close out the match by a 15-7 margin, with the final three points all emphatic in nature, as Bielby — followed twice by Adam Leblanc — scored points off the block.
Calendar 2013 had not gotten off to the best start for Nipissing, as they lost five of their first seven matches to start the second half of the season — including a three-match skid that ended January and began February — but Yung says there was not a moment when the team didn’t believe a run like this was possible.
“They never stopped believing, I never stopped knowing,” he said. “If we have a full line-up when we’re playing, we’re pretty tough to handle. I’m always a believer and I’m always confident in our guys. It was good lesson for me from the [downtimes] so it was good knowing that we could come back and come here and play at this level at the end of the year.”
For Mohawk, it may be hard to see the silver lining in the immediate wake of the tournament, but after posting a 4-5 conference record in the second half of the season — including dropping three of their last four — head coach Matthew Schnarr hopes that in time his players will understand how special their run was.
“I think that my boys turned into young men today,” he said. “A lot of the season was understanding what it takes to play at the top level in this league and it took a long time to figure it out. We have 11 first year athletes that understand [now]. And I hope that they learn from this and take it forward.
“The fact that I saw guys crying, shows me how much they care about their team and this sport. It’s going to hurt a little bit, but I think once it settles, they’re going to understand what we just accomplished. Not many teams get to play in championship finals in their province — only two a year get to do it — and I’m very proud of what they did, pushing a team that – with the way they compete – will be a force to be reckoned with at nationals.”
Nipissing’s Frankie Edgecombe was named the tournament MVP while Bielby (Nipissing), Tom Podstawka (Nipissing), Mo Sulaiman (Mohawk), Trevor McLaughlin (Mohawk), David Klomps (Redeemer) and Shayne Petrusma (Niagara) were named tournament all-stars.