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Photo by Mike Pearson

Photo by Mike Pearson

Brittany Vanderlaan is competing for Team Ontario.

Saltfleet grad Brittany Vanderlaan off to NTCC volleyball tournament

By Mike Pearson, News staff

As one of Hamilton’s elite volleyball players, Brittany Vanderlaan could have taken an easier path to success on the college court.

Instead, the 2014 Saltfleet District High School graduate will try to crack the starting roster of the Humber Hawks, an OCAA powerhouse, with eight titles to its credit.

“It all came down to where I wanted to play,” said Vanderlaan.  “Did I want to play for the top team in the province (or) did I want to play for a team where I would for sure have a starting spot. I ended up choosing Humber because I wanted to challenge myself to play for the top team in the province.”

After several standout seasons with the Burlington Blaze volleyball club and the Saltfleet high school senior girls team, Vanderlaan is adding another chapter to her impressive volleyball resume this month when she competes in Winnipeg for the National Team Challenge Cup.

Sanctioned by Volleyball Canada, the National Team Challenge Cup was launched in 1986 to build a bridge between the needs of the Canadian national teams and the short-term objectives of Volleyball Canada’s regions.

Vanderlaan, a setter, has earned a spot on one of two Ontario teams who are competing at the University of Manitoba from July 15-20.

The women’s tournament is for athletes born in 1996 or later.

While her Burlington Blaze team fell short of a provincial title earlier this year, Vanderlaan was named one of 20 tournament all-stars.

Her coach, Matthew Schnarr, encouraged Vanderlaan to attend open tryouts for team Ontario and Vanderlaan found out July 7 that she had made the cut.

After a gruelling five-day training session at North Bay’s Nipissing University, Vanderlaan was scheduled to fly to Winnipeg on Tuesday for the OTCC Games to represent Ontario.

She’s the only player attending from the Burlington Blaze 18U team.

Success at the NTCC isn’t guaranteed, especially when Vanderlaan competes for a starting spot against players destined for NCAA Division 1 schools.

“I think I’ll have to earn my starting spot on the court. I’ll have to work for it, said Vanderlaan. “When we go there, my goal is to be a starter and then lead the offence to a win.”

As a setter, Vanderlaan will be asked to lead the offence, the same way a quarterback leads a football team.

“I hope to learn new skills from this team. It’s a faster pace than what I played in club volleyball, so I’ll be able to use that to my advantage when I go play for Humber,” she said.

A setter tells hitters what plays to run, judges the opposing blockers and tries to create one-on-one chances for hitters to score points.

“You want to run a play that you’re going to set a hitter that’s going to attack over a smaller player,” Vanderlaan explained.

Vanderlaan credits coach Schnarr for helping her hone her skills in preparation for the NTCC.

Schnarr, who also coaches the Mohawk College men’s team, worked with Vanderlaan every Monday night leading up to the team Ontario selection.

Vanderlaan has been working on speeding up the tempo of her sets heading into the Team Ontario experience.

“It’s a lot faster, so as a settter, I have to make sure I’m running that type of speed…You have to make sure the sets are fast as well.”

Looking ahead to her time at Humber, Vanderlaan hopes to become a starter, at least by her second year on the squad. She plans to enter the pre-health sciences program to eventually become a paramedic.

“Going in as a first year (player), I think it will be pretty hard to start,” said Vanderlaan.

But with one starting setter slated to graduate following the 2014-15 season, a starting spot is a distinct possibility for Vanderlaan’s second year.

She hopes her experience with Team Ontario and the Humber Hawks will one day lead to a spot on Canada’s national team.

Vanderlaan was recently named Female Athlete of the Year by her employer, National Sports, on Upper Wentworth Street. Each of the sporting good retailer’s 18 southern Ontario locations nominated an athlete from their respective workforces and Vanderlaan emerged as the winner.

Along with coach Schnarr, Vanderlaan wishes to thank her parents, Kathleen and Rob, for their support, online research of schools, and for driving her to and from training sessions in Burlington and North Bay.

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