By Martin Cleary
Alizé Lemieux had the family vacation of a lifetime in 2019.
After experiencing all the sights and sounds of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, she travelled 200 kilometres south to the Altitude Academy to attend a one-week beach volleyball camp.
Seven days of beach volleyball was like winning a million dollars for the Ottawa resident. She could only play her favourite sport in the summer in the National Capital Region and there was no year-round indoor beach volleyball venue here to match the one in Toronto.
That camp was a life-changing moment for Lemieux. Not only did it allow her to bump up her beach volleyball career in 2020 by enrolling at Altitude Academy, which is an elite sports training and academic centre, but also it will lead her to becoming the first-ever Ottawa athlete to play beach volleyball at the NCAA Division 1 level.
The sport is relatively new to the NCAA scene, with the first NCAA beach volleyball championship staged in 2016. Lemieux will attend Jacksonville University come August and play for the Dolphins.
“We came here 1½ years ago for a family vacation. We went to Disney and also to a resort, where I did a beach volleyball camp for a week,” the former De La Salle high school student/athlete and Maverick Volleyball Club player said in a phone interview Friday.
“The coaches told me they had a school here and people were here all year long. But my parents didn’t want to send me. I was so young to go away. Then COVID hit, there was no volleyball and no school for a year. It was all virtual. The coach later reached out to my mom and asked if they were thinking of sending me.”
In August, 2020, Lemieux took the bold step to become a student/athlete at Altitude Academy for her Grade 11 studies and learn what beach volleyball was all about.
While playing indoor volleyball at De La Salle from Grades 7 through 10 and competitively for the Mavs for those last three years, she also embraced beach volleyball for four summers. But to appreciate fully the sport of beach volleyball, Lemieux felt she needed to be immersed in the game.
“I developed my game in Florida. I only had the basics (in Ottawa). We had no coaches, just indoor coaches coaching. My coach here in Florida taught me how to play,” added the defender/split blocker position player.
In the span of one year, Lemieux improved her beach volleyball game to the point she was recruited by up to 15 universities offering a variety of different athletic scholarship proposals. But Lemieux was convinced Florida was the place to play beach volleyball. She verbally committed to Jacksonville University last September and officially signed in November.
“I visited a couple of universities, but I knew I wanted to stay in Florida and next to the beach,” she said. “During my visit to the school, I met the team and team bonding was nice. The coach wants a strong team. He’s passionate about the sport and wants to go far with the team.
“There are new girls on the team this year and it’s exciting to build a program. When I stepped on the campus, it was beautiful and that’s where I wanted to go.”
Lemieux will study visual design at Jacksonville University through an academic scholarship and some athletic scholarship money. She hopes to obtain more academic scholarships and have a full scholarship for her first year.
While Lemieux continues to board and train at Altitude Academy, she decided to take her Grade 12 academic courses through the Ontario-based Blyth Academy, which is an online high school program. Carrying a grade-point-average of 3.9 out of 4.0, she has found the Blyth courses more challenging and better suited to prepare her for university.
In a typical day, Lemieux will have two hours of academic work and two hours of beach volleyball practice in the morning, and a repeat of that format in the afternoon. She also does schoolwork in the evening.
Lemieux, who lived in Sydney, Australia, from ages seven to 11 and was introduced to swimming, gymnastics and track and field, quickly developed her beach volleyball skills when she moved to Florida.
“I really listen to the coaches. I’m very coachable,” she said. “What they tell me, I implement. I also practised many hours and had tournaments. I’ve learned more and more about the game. I’ve improved quickly and pushed myself hard.”
As much as she enjoyed winning an Ontario indoor title in the Maverick program as well as playing-up on the De La Salle girls’ senior team and being an National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association indoor volleyball finalist, beach volleyball slowly became a higher priority because of its uniqueness.
“It’s a very different sport,” Lemieux added. “I like that there’s two on the court. You’re always touching the ball, touching it every rally. You’re more in the game. With the indoor game, there are six on the court with players waiting and you don’t touch the ball as much.
“In beach volleyball, you don’t pound the ball. You have to be smart and place the ball. There’s so much more to learn.”
Read More in our 2022 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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