The OCAA All-Star game is one of the only times in the volleyball season that fierce conference rivals come together as teammates and friends. High-fives between players on the likes of Seneca, George Brown and Durham College are almost non-existent on any other day during the OCAA season, but not on one Saturday in March.
The all-star festivities, held at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre, saw five Durham Lords volleyball players and two coaches participate, all representing the Eastern Conference.
The women’s team had four Lords representatives in OCAA women’s coach of the year Tony Clarke, and players Allison Marshall, Brier Kaake and Shannon Dean.
The men had three Lords, including head coach George Matsusaki, and players Braydon Rodgers and Harrison Wood.
The festivities opened with the skills competitions. The three events were hardest spike, passing accuracy challenge and serving accuracy challenge with at least one Lord competing in each one.
But it was Durham’s Kaake who stole the show making it to the final round of each. She went for a hilarious attempt in the hardest spike challenge by sliding under her Eastern Conference teammates’ legs that got the crowd on their feet.
She then made it to the final of the passing accuracy challenge before losing to eventual winner Alessandra Assaf of the Mohawk Mountaineers, who scored an incredible 29 of 30 possible points on her way to victory.
Kaake then went on to win the serving accuracy challenge in dramatic fashion, going through three sudden death rounds with Georgian Grizzlies setter Katharyn Avery before emerging victorious.
The women’s game soon followed with all three Lords starting for the Eastern Conference. It took the Lords under five seconds to make an impact on the game as Dean scored an ace on the very first serve of the game. The East went on to beat the West 3-1 on the back of an incredible performance by player of the game Sara Piana-Yafu of the Loyalist Lancers.
OCAA women’s volleyball player of the year Marshall made sure to soak up the limelight with her great play in what would be her final collegiate volleyball game. Marshall finished her final year of eligibility this season.
“It’s great,” said Clarke in an interview after the game. “It’s awesome to have a girl like Alli Marshall, who in her fifth year will no longer be able to play, to see her go out with a bang.”
Marshall not returning next season could hurt the Lords’ ability to build on their silver medal winning season next year. “It’s tough,” said Clarke on losing his star player, “just have to pound the pavement with recruiting, try to get the best of the best and try to keep this program the way it should be going.”
The finale of the day was the men’s game.
Durham Lords Wood and Rodgers, who started the game, starred for Matsusaki, who coached the Eastern Conference side. The game turned into an incredible display of finesse, power and creativity with a plethora of jaw-dropping rallies, kills and saves.
Wood, being the hometown hero of sorts, thrived in his role and made the most of the crowd’s energy. Wood made block after block on defence and shredded the western side’s defence with his thunderous spikes.
Despite the stellar performance, the Eastern Conference still lost the first set in a hard-fought 25-23 match.
The second set saw one of the plays of the year when Jahsan Toney of the Conestoga Condors, leapt over the coaches’ bench and saved an errant ball from going out of play.
It was by far the highlight of all-star weekend and had the entire gym, including referees and coaches, in utter disbelief.
It was a fun and exciting wrap-up to the OCAA volleyball season for players, coaches and fans alike. An event for fans to relax and cheer for everyone, not stress about who wins or loses. An event for referees to join in the fun. An event for players and coaches to drop the competitiveness and rivalries and just play.