Scott Briggs photo/ Telegraph Journal

Volleyball Greyhounds running with the big dogs

by SCOTT BRIGGS - Monday, May 11, 2015

This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

Grade 12 students Sam Irvine and Anthony Cormier have memories and friendships that will last a lifetime from their years at Saint John High School.

But before they start planning for their senior prom, they're hoping to add another milestone to the treasure chest of awesome experiences. The 17-year-old power-hitters helped the SJHS varsity boys volleyball team finish with a 10-0 record in the regular season. The next test is the South West AAA regional tournament, which the Greyhounds are hosting on Saturday.

"I've made so many connections and bonds with people here," Irvine said. "I'm going to be sad to leave. I'm going to miss the swim team and I'm going to miss the volleyball team.

"I've had the best times with those teams. I started swimming in Grade 9, and that was my way of meeting people. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to that."

Cormier, who previously attended Samuel-de-Champlain, had never played high school volleyball when he came to SJHS in Grade 10.

"I was terrified,"he recalled of his first tryout. "Everybody seemed so big. I made the team and then I felt more confident."

A key part of that process was the influence of Peter Banks, now an assistant coach for the Greyhounds. Banks, this years' men's volleyball MVP at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, was a senior at SJHS when Cormier was a rookie.

"He really helped me bond with the team,which was nice,"Cormier said."He was a role model for me."

Cormier and Irvine have tried to do the same for their teammates.And those efforts have apparently paid off.

"Our co-operation has been the best this year," Irvine said. "All the guys are just comfortable with each other."

That comfort has evidently led to chemistry.

"We've had a few injuries, but we're more tightly knit," Cormier said."We're just tighter (compared to previous years).

"All of us are friends. When I was in Grade 10, it was different people from different groups just kind of playing together. Now it's all athletes, and it's really helpful."

The Greyhounds have also gained size and strength.

"We've gotten a lot bigger," said Cormier, who checks in at about six-foot-one."We weren't that tall before,but our average height is a lot bigger."

Irvine, who's also around six-foot-one, likes the fact the spikes are coming from different players.

"Pretty much everyone can hit," he said. "I was pretty sure we were going to have a good year with all the players who were coming up.I'm glad it's turned out (well) this year."

The Greyhounds opened some eyes earlier this season with a tournament win over Leo Hayes.

"We know that we can compete with the top teams," assistant coach Devin O'Brien said."It's just (a matter of) who brings it and who crumbles under pressure. I'm excited to see if we rise to the occasion. Our hitting is above and beyond what most of the Southern Conference teams have."

That said, O'Brien said the Greyhounds have recently placed extra emphasis on passing and defence during practices.The squad is led by head coach Sue Ellis-Loparco.

And aside from their hitting,the coaches like the leadership provided by Irvine and Cormier.

"They're both very strong volleyball players, even though volleyball wasn't necessarily their first sport," O'Brien said."They're probably two of the best high school hitters in the province right now. They've certainly played crucial roles on the team."

Irvine is planning to attend Memorial University in St.John's in the fall.He's considering trying out for the volleyball team while eyeing the school's engineering program.

Cormier is planning to study biology at Dalhousie University, where he'll continue his track and field career. His efforts have helped SJHS win two provincial track titles, with a third hopefully to come.

"I've been doing track for 10 years now," Cormier said."I do track for nine months of the year and volleyball for three."

Meanwhile, Saturday's eight-team regional tournament begins when the Greyhounds face Oromocto High School at 9 a.m. Those two teams are in Pool A, as are Leo Hayes and Kennebecasis Valley.

Pool B includes Fredericton High,Harbour View,Ecole Ste.Anne and Simonds. The top two from each pool advance to semifinal cross-overs.Both finalists qualify for the provincials on May 23 at the University of New Brunswick Saint John.

"Showing that a Saint John team can get this far is the best," Irvine said."But I really want that provincial banner this year. It would be a great way to end my Grade 12 year."