The London Volleyball Club Fire Heat under-15 team, with seven Oxford athletes, will compete in Volleyball Canada eastern nationals this weekend
The London Fire Heat, which has seven players from Oxford County, will play at Volleyball Canada under-15 Eastern Nationals in Waterloo. The Fire Heat won Division 1 Tier 2 Ontario Volleyball Association provincials earlier in April. Team: Liam Fitzhenry, Dezi Schneller, Braeden Sears, Colin Hutchison, Nate Running, Carter German, Ethan Vlemmix, DJ Chistie, Nick Ceman, Sean Donker, Ethan Laporte and Nik Kovacevic. Assistant coach Robbie Zalewski and head coach- Randy Sears. Submitted photo
When a new team is formed, there’s inevitably time and growing pains before chemistry is properly built, the ability to understand one another’s skills and create the right cohesion to succeed.
For the London Volleyball Club Fire Heat under-15 boys’ volleyball team - comprised of seven Oxford County players and five from London - it took about six months until they began to find the right amount of court success.
Following a tournament in Indianapolis before Ontario Volleyball Association provincials, the Fire Heat came together. Though losing in the quarter-finals of the gold division, they only lost to the eventual gold and silver medal winning teams in the always tough American competition.
“I think the turning point was when we went to Indianapolis. They got to bond and I felt it changed there,” head coach Randy Sears said in a phone interview. “They became very comfortable and the chemistry really developed there… It was there best volleyball they played to that point all year.”
The team, who practice twice a week at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute, went into provincials as the eighth ranked team in Division 1, but after some first and second day struggles found themselves in the Tier 2 ranks. They went 1-2 in the round robin and 2-1 in the power pool, narrowly missing staying in Tier 1. On the final day, they beat the Storm Voltage 2-0 (25-16, 25-18) in the quarter-finals and continued with a 2-1 (22-25, 25-23, 11-15) win against the Ottawa Maverick Calvary before eventually beating ACTS Elites in the finals 2-1 (25-19, 21-25, 15-11).
“It wasn’t our goal, but we’re satisfied with it,” Sears said of provincials. “We lost some games at keys time that dropped us to Tier 2 and they bounced back Sunday to win every match and win gold.”
The Fire Heat appeared in three under-15 tournaments this past season as well as two at the under-16 level and advanced to the Tier 2 quarter-finals in the under-16 provincials.
“We played really well and competed very well against the stronger 16U teams. We went three (sets) with a lot of those teams. I was really happy with that. We’re on paper one of the top eight teams in Ontario,” Sears said. “Sometimes we don’t play with the intensity other teams play to stem the roller coaster ride volleyball can be. You want to steady the ship a bit to avoid the ups and downs. They’re getting better, so it’ll come.”
Throughout the season, Sears said what stood out was the team’s intelligence and continuing to develop and improve in one of the most vital aspects of the sport.
“I think everyone improved with their skill and particularly their volleyball IQ. With volleyball, there’s a particular skill level all the players have but the IQ component to understanding the game and what to do at certain points that as you get older into 18U it develops more and more,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to develop and I was impressed with how they grew… That was the biggest piece was how they grew in that aspect.”
As they head into nationals this weekend in Waterloo, it’ll be the second time for the players, with the Oxford ones having placed fourth last season in under-14 as the Oxford Crush.
After a rocky provincials, but recent strong showings in Indianapolis and under-16 provincials, the advice is simple for their final tournament of the year.
“After the 15U provincials, my advice is relax and have fun. They were a bit nervous and uptight and felt like they had to prove something, which is fine, but it hurt us the first two days. They were tight, nervous and didn’t play their game,” Sears said. “Against the good teams, you’ll get in trouble. It’s really just having fun and the game will take care of itself if you do that.”