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U14 Vision Sharks defy the odds, win provincial championship

'Believing in yourself was a big part of what we talked about during that weekend. Everyone wanted to be the one to get the ball and make a play'

Pursuit is a sports feature series highlighting athletes, coaches, and staff and significant sporting events from North Bay and the surrounding area.                      


It was a real-life underdog story worthy of a Hollywood script.  

The U14 Vision Sharks Volleyball Club entered the Ontario Championships (OC’s) in Waterloo in April ranked 25th out of 28 teams.  

“All you can do when you get to the OC’s is let the girls go. The coaching is done, the training is done, you let them run with the game,” says Head Coach Murray Doucette. 

“At that point, you encourage them, cheer them on, call the occasional time out, and let them run the game.” 

And that’s exactly what they did.  

The Vision Sharks dropped the first set in their first elimination game, but stormed back and dominated from that point forward, taking down some of the top competition in the province en route to bringing home the provincial championship beating Oakville Lakeside Kascara in the finals 25:14 and 25:18.  

It was the culmination of a long season where the team went through some ups and downs.  

“We had quite a bit of turnover this year,” says Doucette. “We had five girls move on from last year, so I think it took a while for the team to really gel and buy into the team culture.” 

The season starts in October with three practices a week, with one gym session a week focused on fitness and agility training, with the season ending in mid-April.  

“I believe in developing players,” says Doucette. “We had systems changing and positions changing, and girls were still getting used to that. But they showed a lot of character, and they are amazing young ladies.” 

Lilly Knecht, who plays right side and setter says, “All that training really helped us throughout the year. Being in the gym four times a week really pushed us and prepared us for that final tournament.” 

“It’s almost like having a full-time job, but it's a lot of fun so it doesn’t feel like work.” 

Knecht, who is born and raised in North Bay, wanted to start playing volleyball because her older sister Emily played, but she almost quit during her U12 year after being cut from another program. 

“Keira (a teammate) encouraged me to keep going and told me to come try out for Vision. Murray took me and I’ve been playing for him ever since.” 

Keira Allison, who plays left side, says she has been playing for Doucette’s club for three years. “I played beach volleyball first and I wanted to keep playing throughout the year. I tried out for Murray’s team and made the team and I love being a part of this club.” 

Allison, born and raised in North Bay, says she found the biggest difference in transitioning from beach to court volleyball was the amount of space you cover.  

“In beach, you usually only have two players on a team versus six on a court, so you have to be more positionally aware.” 

Leah Davison has been playing for Doucette for three years now and says this year just felt different. “We had a lot of new players, and we introduced different playing styles on the court.” 

Davison, also born and raised in North Bay says, “It was a lot of fun though and we became a really tight group this year, especially as we headed to OC’s.” 

Davison says the camaraderie between teammates is what she looks forward to while playing for the Vision Volleyball Club. 

“I love the team atmosphere. It’s great to meet people from different schools who have different backgrounds and learning about each other, and working together is what I enjoy most about playing volleyball.” 

The tournament began as a stiff challenge for the Vision Sharks, ranked 25th out of 28 teams. The initial days of competition on Thursday and Friday served as critical warm-ups, setting the stage for a more focused and determined effort as the elimination rounds approached. 

“We played a top team at the end of the day on Friday and we battled them to the bitter end and after that game, I said to the girls, ‘Are you ready to ball?’ and they responded ‘Yes!’ and they came out firing on Saturday,” says Doucette. 

Saturday marked a pivotal shift in momentum for the Sharks, who, after dropping the first set, found their rhythm and dominated subsequent matches against some of the top teams in the province. Their path to the championship was marked by key victories, including a comeback win against the Toronto Galaxy Flares (21:25, 25:14, 25:11) and solid performances against the Georgetown Impact Tornado (25:22, 25:15) and the Toronto Shockwave Storm (25:21, 25:14). 

“Those first two days, we didn’t play well,” says Davison. “I think a lot of the girls felt that we were going to be going home early in the elimination round. But once we got there, we all got hyped up and started to hype up each other and when we got that first win we had the initiative to keep winning.” 
Knecht says, “I didn’t think we were going to win, to be honest with you. We had a tough season, there were so many times where we were close to winning but couldn’t finish a game. But at the OC’s everyone had a good mindset going into it and we just started putting wins together, because we trusted each other.” 

“Believing in yourself was a big part of what we talked about during that weekend. Everyone wanted to be the one to get the ball and make a play but trusted our teammates to make the right play as well,” says Knecht.   

“It was a surreal experience to win the whole tournament,” says Davison. “To see us push through the entire tournament and come away with a gold medal is really awesome.” 

“We played really hard in that first elimination game after not winning any of the preliminary games,” says Allison. “We kept pushing, kept winning, and winning it all felt great, it was a great experience.” 

 Coached by Doucette with assistance from Bryanna Bole, the Vision Sharks demonstrated a remarkable turnaround over the weekend. 

"This championship was a testament to the team’s growth, resilience, and unity. These players have truly embodied what it means to compete with determination and heart," said Doucette about the team's journey. “They stuck with it, they believed in what we were doing, and they bought into the systems and what we were doing and it paid off at the end. I have so much pride and admiration for these girls. They didn’t give up, they kept getting stronger and went on a roll.”  
The Vision Sharks’ triumph not only adds a championship trophy to their collection but brings with it a story of perseverance and team spirit that may inspire the local volleyball community and future athletes. 

If you have a story idea for “Pursuit” send Matt an email at [email protected]  

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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