Noel Chenier photo/Telegraph-Journal

Scouts on the lookout

by Kevin Barrett - Friday, March 27, 2009

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

In sharp contrast to basketball and hockey schedules, the spring volleyball slate provides a compact window for competition - and scouting.

Things got underway earlier this month and there have been a few tournaments around the province.

But with provincials slated for mid-May in the senior ranks, the season is indeed quick.

So for university coaches such as Keith Raynes of the University of New Brunswick Saint John Seawolves, tournaments such as this weekend's Dave Patterson Memorial at the UNBSJ campus is a great opportunity to evaluate the players' abilities.

UNBSJ boasted a young roster this past season, with all but three players in their first or second years. That includes second-team conference all-star Kelcie Levesque of Fredericton and Dax Hooper, a six-foot-one middle hitter from Hampton, who enjoyed strong rookie campaigns in Saint John.

So with little turnover, Raynes is specific in what he wants to address for next season.

One potential area is for a libero - a defensive player who digs the hard smashes from the opposition off the floor and also sets top players up for winning offensive hits.

"That is an area we are looking for," Raynes said.

This weekend, it's a bet Raynes will look toward Emily Smith, an all-around athlete at Saint John High who was named most valuable player for the girls volleyball program in 2007-08 from her libero position.

"She has the heart of a lion," Saint John High School athletic director Tom Keaveney said. "She is just a dynamo."

Smith is a talented multi-sport athlete. At last year's school athletic banquet she was named rookie of the year for girls basketball and most valuable player for the girls volleyball team. She's also been recognized for soccer at the junior level.

All this while carrying a high honours average in the classroom. "She is a starter in soccer, basketball and volleyball and she's played a key role for all three teams," Keaveney said.

The volleyball tournament salutes the memory of Patterson, who passed away in April of 2006.

He was a former teacher at St. Malachy's High School and a coach, manager and administrator at many levels during his three-plus decades of involvement in the sport. He helped found Volleyball New Brunswick and is a member of its Hall of Fame.

He also coached the Seawolves women's team from 1995 to 2006 and funds from the tournament assist a scholarship for students in his name.

"Emily is a top student and a top athlete and Dave Patterson would have really admired a player like her," Keaveney said.

In addition to Saint John, Rothesay and St. Malachy's, there are seven other teams vying for the title in the one-day event Saturday.

They are Kennebecasis Valley, Moncton, Clement Cormier, Sussex, Harbour View, Tantramar of Sackville and Fredericton.

Action starts early Saturday, beginning with three matches at 9 a.m. Games continue throughout the day, with semifinals slated for 4 p.m. and the championship match is scheduled for 5 p.m.

In last year's tournament, Saint John edged Sussex 2-1 in the final with set scores of 25-23, 19-25 and 15-12.

Earlier this month, St. Malachy's hosted a girls tournament to honour Patterson's memory as well. In that event, Rothesay shaded Saint John in three sets to take the title.