By Dan Plouffe
The Ottawa Fusion 18-and-under boys lived true to their name as the players from the city’s two powerhouse clubs combined to form one team at the top youth level, producing an Ontario Volleyball Association championships bronze medal win two weekends ago in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“It was a bit awkward for the first couple months because they’ve been traditional rivals, but it’s really a united team and the guys play really well together,” says Fusion coach Pat Corriveau. “We really came together well. Everybody was really engaged, and I was really proud to be coaching this team because of the effort that they put forth throughout the tournament.”
It was a fairly rocky start to the season for the 18U squad as they dealt with the politics of which club – the Fusion or the Mavericks – would run the program. The new group didn’t spend much time together either early on during the high school volleyball season, and the team was achieving sub-par results.
“We always had a lot of great players, but bringing the two clubs together took awhile to get used to the chemistry,” explains team captain Gabriel Aaron, who grew up playing for the Kangaroos and then the Fusion once his club merged with the National Capital Volleyball Club in 2009. “After the first couple months, everybody got more comfortable with each other by hanging out more and spending time together practicing. Then we took off.”
Unable to crack the top tier at OVA events early in the year, the Fusion gradually improved their performance at every tournament, culminating with their place on the provincial podium. It was a sign that the team was gelling together despite some original differences.
“At the start, I think the competitiveness wasn’t as high as with the Mavericks, and the organization too, but you get used to it and you try to bring all your energy to the practice to get some competitiveness into it,” recounts former Maverick national MVP Bruno Lortie, who’s enjoyed joining a team with greater cultural diversity. “We’re all from different races or places in the world, so it’s great to see how different people have come along here.”
Lortie is one of four Grade 11 players on the squad who can return to play at the 18U level next season. Patrick Goulet, an OVA tournament all-star middle, is another, and he agrees that the individuals have come together on the court and off.
“It’s not my last year, but I hope that I can just see these guys and play with some of them in university,” states the Franco-Cité high school student. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends on this team. It’s fun to come practice. It isn’t like another night where I can’t hang out with friends, because I get to see my friends at practice.”
Corriveau believes that all of his athletes are capable of continuing their volleyball careers in university, with several of them already committed to Canadian Interuniversity Sport schools. It’s also very helpful during game play to have such depth at his disposal.
“It’s integral to our success,” notes Corriveau, a former Ryerson and University of Manitoba setter who heads Ottawa’s Big Bounce Beach Volleyball organization. “We had nine guys that pretty much played equally all weekend (at provincials). Especially in a long three-day tournament where you’re playing nine matches, if you’re just relying on six guys to get all your playing time, you’ll be in a tough spot.”
The Fusion’s performance at the April 15-17 OVA championships was the showcase moment for the team’s work throughout the year. The boys lost just once in six matches during the first two days of pool play and then avenged that defeat by beating a Hamilton club in the quarter-finals. Ottawa fell 15-11 in the final set to Durham in the semi-finals before knocking off the Northumberland Breakers in straight sets to take bronze.
“We all saw how well we can play, but we’re not at the peak yet. There’s still some room for improvement,” adds Aaron, a University of British Columbia-bound senior at Glebe Collegiate Institute. “It’s nice to know we could get third, and I think nationals (from May 13-15 in Abbotsford, B.C.) could go even better.”
At the 17U boys’ level, the Mavericks and Fusion hinted at the promise they may hold for next year if a similar merger scenario unfolds between the two clubs by placing fifth and fourth respectively at their OVA finals.
Two Maverick teams – the 15U girls and the 16U boys – brought home bronze medals from the provincials, while the Fusion boys were perfect through the first two days of the 15U competition before bowing out in the quarter-finals. The Maverick 18U girls also won gold in tier two.