Universities Volleyball

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Maxime Gratton upgrading his game in Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

Maxime Gratton. File photo

By Martin Cleary

The road that led Ottawa’s Maxime Gratton to become a national-level men’s volleyball player was fed by many different athletic avenues, including one major team-sport roadblock.

As a young boy, Gratton tested the waters in basketball, taekwondo, skiing, soccer and swimming. Volleyball was his last sport adventure and it emerged as the right one, just as it was for his father Paul, a member of Canada’s 1984 Olympic Games team.

Others could see that, too. When Maxime Gratton was in Grade 8 at École secondaire Catholique Garneau, he tried out for the basketball team. He already had competitive experience with the Gloucester-Cumberland Wolverines.

“I didn’t play high school basketball because I was cut from the team (in Grade 8). She (coach) told me I should focus on volleyball. I took her advice,” said Gratton, who accepted being cut with a touch of sadness and grace.

Back then, Gratton was just exploring volleyball’s basics. Today, he’s one of Canada’s top development athletes. The left-side player is part of Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program, a freshman on the McMaster University men’s roster, and an Ontario Volleyball Association award winner.

Gratton, 18, is participating in the National Excellence Program in a bubble environment at Centre Sportif de Gatineau. The program started last fall and is designed to develop the next generation of national-team players.

“I was shocked,” said Gratton, when he learned he was selected to the program. “I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity. I’m really excited.”

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Gratton started playing volleyball with Ottawa Mavericks eight years ago.

While the pandemic has prevented him and his teammates from playing any matches over the last 10 months, Gratton’s Monday-to-Friday schedule is full with eight volleyball practices and McMaster classes and assignments.

“I am really comfortable now, but it took a while to adapt. The online school was difficult, but once I got the hang of it, it was easier,” added Gratton, who reduced his semester course load to 3 from 4 to ease the stress.

“We have 8 practices a week and each one lasts 2-3 hours. It’s difficult to make all the practices and get school done, but I’m staying on top of it. When you get used to it, it’s great,” said the social science major.

A big learning point came last November, when he tried to get off the floor from making a diving play and he injured his ankle. He missed the next five weeks with a triple ankle sprain and a small fracture in his right ankle.

“My coach made me realize that if I kept playing I could compromise my career in volleyball,” Gratton explained. “I have to look at the big picture. I was closed minded. I have to focus on the little details.”

As much as he’s benefiting from participating in the National Excellence Program, he also wishes he could be part of the McMaster men’s program at the same time as a first-year Marauder. McMaster is an OUA powerhouse. The entire 2020-21 OUA varsity sports season has been cancelled because of the pandemic.

“Since I started practising with the National Excellence Program, I can’t train with them (Marauders). But I keep my coach Dave Preston informed. It’s really hard. I’d like to go to McMaster for a couple weeks, but not now.”

The pandemic-shortened 2019-20 volleyball season ended positively for Gratton, who was named an 18U boys’ Ontario Volleyball Association all-star and winner of the prestigious Ken Davies Memorial Award.

The Davies award recognizes a player for his determination, leadership, sportsmanship, fair play, spirit, compassion, and on-court talent and accomplishments.

“That was incredible. It’s really a massive honour,” said Gratton, whose daily schedule for the past nine years has also included managing his Type-1 diabetes.

Now that Gratton is settled into volleyball, he’s thankful his dad can share the experience. When Maxime played for the Mavericks, Paul was his head coach for two years and his assistant coach for the past two years.

“He’s the reason why I started volleyball. At the end of his career at Onion Patch, he exposed me to the sport and I wanted to play. He’s my biggest role model for life and sport,” Gratton emphasized.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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