By Martin Cleary
The road to becoming a university volleyball player for Oceane Raymond-Leduc was filled with numerous challenges.
But once she joined the Nipissing University Lakers for her first season in the OUA women’s volleyball league, there was no stopping the former student-athlete from Collège catholique Samuel-Genest.
An outside hitter who can play both sides, Raymond-Leduc, 19, emerged this past season as a top-10 performer in four OUA statistical categories, won numerous league and U Sports honours, including OUA rookie of the year, and was named Nipissing’s female athlete of the year in her first year of eligibility.
Being able to experience the unforgettable freshman season she had in 2022-23 is one thing. Reaching the threshold of that opportunity was totally something else.
When Raymond-Leduc was in elementary school, she enjoyed playing and learning about different sports, especially volleyball. For one reason or another, she didn’t pursue volleyball at the community level until she tried out and made the Maverick Volleyball Club girls’ 15U high-performance B team.
For the following three years with the 16U, 17U and 18U teams, she played on the top high-performance A teams, developing her skills as well as friendships with her teammates.
During one of her practices with the 16U team, she fell, landed into one of her teammates and sprained her left ankle. A trip to the hospital dealt with the sprain, but X-rays also detected a small cyst on her left heel, which had been giving her some discomfort.
The sprained ankle eventually resolved itself, but the developing cyst required two years of waiting for medical appointments, testing and wondering what will happen to correct her heel pain. All this happened during the COVID-19 pandemic period, when everything was moving at a much slower and cautious pace.
As Raymond-Leduc was preparing to graduate from Samuel-Genest, she was focusing on two universities – Nipissing and McGill – to study in an education program and play on the women’s volleyball team.
The pandemic made it difficult for coaches to recruit players and for the players to schedule university visits.
Raymond-Leduc eventually decided on Nipissing as she regularly heard from Lakers’ head coach Marc Larochelle and had a chance to share a meal with several players.
In September, 2021, Raymond-Leduc was excited and nervous entering the North Bay, ON. school for her first year. But later that month, she was surprised to learn she was given a surgery date to remove the cyst. The surgery at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus in conjunction with CHEO went well for Raymond-Leduc, who was 17 at the time.
Raymond-Leduc recovered in two months and was able to start practising with the Lakers towards the end of 2021. She decided to red-shirt her first season as she didn’t want to use her first year of eligibility by only playing half a season.
“It wasn’t until I was playing 18U volleyball when they contacted me to set up appointments” for the cyst on her heel, Raymond-Leduc said in a phone interview Tuesday. “There were appointments and more tests and surgery was planned. But it (date) came out of nowhere.
“I was shocked (by the surgery date). When I signed to attend Nipissing, I had no idea. I had to tell the coach that I came with no idea about my surgery.
“My first year of university was tough. All my courses were online. My Grade 12 courses were mostly online. University was a big step. It took a while to get used to the websites and find the courses, but I was lucky as my teammates helped me. Eventually, I adapted.”
Once she started to feel comfortable in her academic studies – she has now completed her second year of a four-year education course with two years of teachers’ college down the road – Raymond-Leduc had volleyball to bring balance to her classroom life.
A half year of practice last season led her into her first full season with the Lakers, knowing the players, the coaching staff and feeling confident.
While the Lakers didn’t make the OUA playoffs, finishing 11th out of 16 teams with a 7-11 record, there were moments of success.
Raymond-Leduc missed the first game of a two-match weekend series at home with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues because of a back issue. But she played in the second game and celebrated the Lakers’ 24-26, 20-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-12 upset win over the big-city team. She had 17 kills and 12 digs over five sets.
Raymond-Leduc also had an outstanding two-game series against Trent University Excalibur, which led to her being named OUA athlete of the week for the period ending Jan. 15. After recording 15 kills, two service aces and 17 points in the opening match, she upped her game and registered 26 kills, two service aces and 28.5 points in the second match.
For the season, Raymond-Leduc ranked No. 5 in the OUA in kills per set at 3.22 and points per set at 3.8 and total attacks at 664, while placing No. 6 in total kills at 222 and No. 10 in service aces at 27 in 19 games. All her numbers were Nipissing women’s volleyball program records.
The OUA named Raymond-Leduc its rookie of the year and placed her on the conference’s second all-star team and its all-rookie team. As rookie of the year, she also was the OUA’s nominee for the U Sports national rookie-of-the-year award.
At the U Sports women’s volleyball championship awards gathering, she was selected as an outside hitter to the all-rookie team.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Raymond-Leduc said about winning the OUA rookie-of-the-year award. “I was definitely shocked and happy.”
During the season, her teammates told her she was going to win that award. Raymond-Leduc used that as motivation as she didn’t want to disappoint her teammates.
Nipissing’s athletic department certainly took notice of Raymond-Leduc’s achievements at its annual awards ceremony.
Raymond-Leduc was selected the Jack and Mary Ann Jones female athlete of the year, the Lakers’ rookie of the year and the women’s volleyball MVP and the co-winner of the top rookie award with Paige Owen.
“Winning the athlete of the year definitely came as a shock,” she added. “I had no idea I was in the running. When I heard my name called, I was so happy. My hard work had paid off.”
Her favourite expression is: “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Raymond-Leduc is considered the glue that holds the team together, a leader and a calming force in tight on-court situations.
“In club volleyball, I was building connections with my teammates and having a good time,” she explained. “This year, I proved what I’m capable of doing.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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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