The 2022 Canada Summer Games closed with an emphatic celebration over the Falls on Sunday, August 21 after two weeks of multi-event youth sport competitions brought the country together in the Niagara Region. The event marked a return to the Canada Games cycle after a year postponement.
Before the Games even started, Ontario volleyball was recognized as several OVA members were selected to deliver oaths for their respective discipline. Team Ontario boys coaches Frank St-Denis (Maverick Volleyball) and Danny Gosselin (Vision Volleyball) were called upon to recite the coaches oath and Samara Sevor (Region 3 Referee Chair) was named to deliver the referee oaths during the opening festivities.
In the final standings, Ontario led the medal haul with 198. Volleyball contributed to three of these medals – two in beach volleyball (gold and silver) and a bronze in the indoor competition.
The athletes selected to attend the Games have all made their way through the OVA's Athlete Development Pathway, which is committed to the principles of the Long-Term Development (LTD) model. On the indoor side of competition, the Team Ontario Elite squads, after several training camps, were mixed in with a few post-secondary players eligible to compete at the Games after a careful selection process. For the beach, a Team Ontario tournament was held in Toronto with the winners being named as the ones to represent the province in Niagara.
Image source: Derek Bottomley
Ontario continues to assert its position as a significant hotbed of beach volleyball talent as both teams ended their campaigns with medals around their necks. Steven Abrams (Georgetown) and Jonny Pickett (Wiarton) took their tournament in dominant fashion, losing only one set during pool play. The duo blazed through the final portion of the tournament, winning straight sets against P.E.I, Nova Scotia and Quebec to earn the top spot on the podium.
"The games was an unreal experience! Getting to play on home court in front of so many fans was amazing and the support we received was outstanding," Steven Abrams commented. " We had a great tournament full of great games and lots of good competition. With the help of all the amazing support staff we were able to pull through and win gold on home soil which was unbelievable. It was such a great event and so excepting to see so many great athletes across Canada to come together for sport and to come out on top was a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Image source: Heidi Fast
"I had an amazing time at the Canada Summer Games battling it out," Pickett reflected. "Doesn't get much better than getting the opportunity to represent my province with my best bud in front of my friends and family. We really are livin' the dream."
Image source: Derek Bottomley
The team of Sophia Hlladyniuk (Toronto) and Emma Braticevic (London) had a slightly more uphill battle than the boys, finishing their pool in third place before going the distance in both quarter and semifinals in close matches against Manitoba and British Columbia. Their final match against a fiery and hungry Quebec team would be another nail-biter, but ultimately just be shy of the gold and Hlladyniuk/Braticevic settled for the silver.
"The Canada Games was an amazing experience!" said Braticevic. "It was so cool to meet all types of people from different provinces. It was also very fun to get to know the beach volleyball players from the different provinces and make those connections. This was definitely my favourite competition that I have been to so far. Winning silver for Ontario was very exciting!"
Image source: Larry Matthewson
"My experience at the games is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life," added Hlladyniuk. "I think the games have created a stepping stone between young athletes and elite sport events we all hope to compete at one day by providing a unique opportunity for athletes, like myself, to experience.
This experience opened me up to a whole new culture of people and new sports. I think the tournament was really well run and I'm grateful for all the hard work the volunteers put in to make it happen. It really showcased our perseverance and all of the things we've been working on all summer clicked when they needed to. I came away from this learning a lot of valuable lessons. Getting silver wasn't what we hoped for but I will forever cherish that accomplishment and what it taught me for future competitions and endeavours."
Team Ontario continues to build a medal-rich lineage on the beach front at the Games, succeeding silver and bronze performances at the Winnipeg 2017 event from Molly McBain/Lea Monkhouse and Logan Mend/Tomas Sorra, respectively.
Off the heels of fourth place finishes at the 2022 Canada Cup in Calgary, Alberta, Team Ontario looked to rebound and put on a show in front of the rowdy home crowd in Niagara. The boys would have a hot start to the tournament, finishing 3-0 in their pool after several tough four and five set matches. After a sweep of New Brunswick in the quarterfinals, Saskatchewan would hand the boys their receipt to the bronze medal finals after three close sets. Not wanting to leave empty handed, Team Ontario pulled out all the stops and joined Saskatchewan and Alberta on the podium, adorning the bronze.
Image source: Brad Demers
"It's been an amazing three year journey full of ups and downs," said coach Danny Gosselin. The coaching teams of Gosselin, St-Denis and Matthew Ragogna (boys) and Jimmy El-Turk, Matthew Schnarr and Natasha Spaling (girls) were selected back in 2019. "The athletes in this group have proven to be resilient, dedicated and extremely hard working, which made our summer training culture a most rewarding experience for both the coaching staff and the athletes.
Every day these guys came to work and wore these hard hats with Team O pride. What a fulfilling experience to have had a chance to represent your province on such a huge stage. One that I will always remember and be so proud of. It was not all the time we put into the training and competing that mattered, it was what we put into our time together."
Like the boys, the girls were off to a great start; a second place in their pool saw the team come away with strong victories and one four-set defeat. Like the boys too, Saskatchewan would prove to be the toughest obstacle in the tournament. Leaving a tough Pool E at 1-2, Saskatchewan took Ontario to the limit in the quarterfinals. A thrilling five-set match saw close back and forth exchanges between the two teams, barely giving each other much breathing room as the match progressed. In the fifth set, Saskatchewan got the better of the girls and pulled away to punch their ticket to the semis and left Ontario for the consolation bracket. The tournament would end on a higher note for the Team Ontario girls as they had a decisive sweep against New Brunswick to close their run and finished the tournament in sixth place.
Image source: Ashley Buston-White
"The first and most important thought that comes to mind when I reflect on our time with the Canada Games team is the quality and caliber of young women that were a part of our group. It was truly a privilege to work with some of the best athletes in the province and the country on a daily basis," Spaling comments. "What people see is the 6 weeks that our team put in over the course of this summer to have the opportunity to compete at the games - what people do not see are the years before that, the online meetings, running practices over zoom for a full summer, in-person training camps and the true amount of hours dedicated by this team. I am extremely proud to stand amongst such a resilient and strong group, and humbled to have played a role in the development of these athletes.
Canada Games was a truly unique experience. We were extremely lucky to be the host province and to have so many people, family, friends around to be able to watch and cheer us on. We competed with joy and gratitude and even though we did not walk away with a gold medal, we built lasting relationships and came out of the experience as better coaches, athletes and people."