I am currently staying with my beach partner Ahren and his lovely girlfriend Emily, close to Ash Bridges Bay just east of downtown Toronto. I have a wonderful couch to sleep on and they Emily has been taking care of me like my mother would which is quite a big set of shoes to fill for those of you who know my super mother. We managed to train once a day leading up to Nationals to keep our sand legs but the focus was more on the mental aspects than anything. We know our A game is right there, and we are looking to connect all the dots and peak for the National Championships.
Today marked the start of the three day event with a round of pool play to establish rankings for a power pool format which then leads to a single elimination playoff bracket. The weather teased us with sun in the morning but midway through our first game at 8:30, the wind picked up and clouds rolled in making the rest of the day vicious.
Our first match was against Ben Feist who is a good friend from the West Coast and a partner he had never met before by the name of Chris Simek who was a National Team athlete in 2008. I will start by saying how much I respect Ben. He came down to Brazil last year and trained for 4 weeks because he had always dreamed of playing in an International event. He took time off work and trained is butt off with a Brazilian friend of mine because he didn't want to miss his chance of living his dream. He is now out here, with a partner he doesn't know, competing at the toughest National Championships I have seen and he will be trying out for our National team camp following the competition next week. He is in his early 30's and he couldn't care less what people think because he wants it and loves the sport. Like I mentioned earlier, this game started at 8:30 in decent weather but in the middle of the first set, things deteriorated. Well the same thing went for our game! We were up 12-9 at the switch but then Chris went back to serve right as the wind came. Chris's serve is a weapon and with a heavy wind it can be deadly. He ripped off 4 or 5 aces in a row and put us in serious trouble, especially me because I was the one getting aced! We lost the first 21-18 but recovered nicely in the second with a convincing win of 21-17. The third saw us hit our stride and we ripped serves, blocked and sided out to win 15-8. A shaky start but in our next match we knew we couldn't come out flat because our opponents were young national team athletes with their barrels pointed squarely at our heads.
Committed to fire this game up and prove our ranking, we jumped to a 21-13 first set victory against the young talented boys. Chaim Schalk who set for Trinity Western University was playing defense against a high school phenom who had the highest vertical jump in our entire national team camp! Both are relatively new to the beach so our game plan was to bomb serves and put them in trouble in the wind. We were able to execute this plan nicely in the first but they fought a little harder in the second. We went down 11-10 at the second set technical timeout but took the lead as we switched to the superior serving side. With a 15-13 switch and then a great hold on the bad side, we wound up closing the match at 21-17 with some great blocks and heavy aces. Our ball control really shined and we were able to make some fantastic transition points which started with cannon serves into the win. Confident with our play, we rested until 4 when we were to play the second ranked team in our pool who are the top ranked Quebec team.
Our opponents just came off a Silver medal at the Canada Summer Games in PEI last week and to their credit, they are great athletes and have excellent ball control. Lucky for me, my partner had a few sets of aces in his pockets and we thumped them in the first set. Ahren was serving so well into the wind that I couldn't help feeling bad for them after a 5 or 6 ace streak where they barely even touched the ball. They conserved their energy and turned off their play to save for the next set. A tough battle the second set turned out to be as they increased serving pressure into the wind and they started connecting on their sideouts. We switched down 10-11, barely held on for a 14-14 switch and bled for a few points to regain the lead on the bad side for an 18-17 switch! Once on the good side, Ahren served 3 aces and they hit one ball out to seal it at 21-17.
All in all it was a successful day as we reaffirmed our superior ball control and siding out. I was pleased with my serving and blown away by Ahren's!! We brought solid intensity and will have to bring it for one more game to sinch our pool tomorrow morning. That game will be played at 10:15 so wish us luck!!!
Thanks for all the support from friends and family and I will repost tomorrow.