This year’s Memorial University’s Men’s Volleyball Team will include a pair of varsity rookies from Pearson Academy in New-Wes-Valley, and Phoenix Academy in Carmanville.
Jared Stokes is coming off a stellar year of volleyball with the Astros of Pearson Academy, while former Phoenix Academy Raider Blair Parsons has been a force in the St. John's City League.
Both men are used to competing in high-level matches, and both are adjusting to the level of competition they'll be facing during the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season.
For Stokes, competing against top level teams like the Dalhousie University Tigers and University of New Brunswick Reds is quite the jump from competing in 3A provincials.
"3A volleyball doesn't compare to this," said Stokes. "It's just so much faster, just a completely different style of volleyball."
Unlike Stokes, it took Parsons a few years before deciding he wanted to compete at the varsity level.
He left Phoenix Academy to attend Memorial University, and although he thought about competing for a roster spot then, decided to hold out until he became more familiar with school and the workload that came with it.
"I didn't know what the workload was going to be like when I first went to MUN, so I figured I would just play City League once a week," said Parsons. "Now, I know what I'm getting myself into in terms of school, so I figured I'd try it out. It's been going pretty well."
MUN's team was picked in September, and is now preparing for its season-opener, an away series against the Tigers, Nov. 19-20.
Stokes attended a MUN volleyball camp late last year while he was still in high school, and he used the opportunity to get to know the head coach and familiarize himself with the university's volleyball program.
After going through that experience, Stokes had it in his mind then that he wanted to become a Sea-Hawk.
"I had some expectations...I'm familiar with the coach and whatnot," said Stokes. "It's a big thing. I was pretty enthusiastic about it."
As for Parsons, he's going into his first varsity season with a lot of hype behind him. He's been a force at past Molson Senior Volleyball Provincial Championships, and has drawn accolades from Deon Goulding, who coaches the Gander Collegiate Concordes.
"He was trying to get me to come to play volleyball in Gander when I was in Grade 8 or 9," said Parsons with a laugh. "He was after me all throughout high school to get me to come to Gander to play."
“I’m supporting the guys that supported me throughout high school…it’s a big thing.” Jared Stokes
Remembering their roots
Although Stokes and Parsons have since moved on to bigger things since their days playing on the high school circuit, neither athlete forgets where they started playing the sport they love.
In fact, while the Astros were competing in this year's VolleyFest tournament in St. John's, Stokes was one of many former Astros who stood behind the bench and cheered the team on while they won a gold medal.
"I'm supporting the guys that supported me throughout high school...it's a big thing," said Stokes. "You have to give that same support back to the guys coming up through the program now."
He's now a Sea-Hawk, but he'll always be an Astro at heart. It's who Stokes is, and it's where he got his start.
He'll always be appreciative of the times he spent travelling with his high school team, and he'll always remember the family-like atmosphere that surrounded the team.
"It was a really in-depth program," said Stokes. "They cared about all of the players on the team, and they worked hard with all of the players on the team - nobody was left out."
Parsons is no different. He's good friends with current Raiders coach Ryan Saunders, and asks him how the boys are doing whenever the two talk.
However, Parsons grew up playing with guys who were bigger and stronger than he was, and he credits those guys for molding him into the player he is today.
"I learned from everybody who was ahead of me, because I played volleyball with people who were older than me," said Parsons. "Those guys would go away to provincial camps, and bring back what they learned to our school. I learned so much from that.
"Growing up in Phoenix Academy, we were always in the gym."
Both athletes are now doing what so many players in Central Newfoundland want to do when they leave high school - compete on the varsity level.
Stokes and Parsons, before a quick impromptu practice at St. Paul's Intermediate in Gander Saturday evening, shared some advice to those younger players.
If they want to be a Sea-Hawk someday, they need to practice, listen, and believe.
"They need to listen to what their coaches are telling them," said Parsons. "They have to continue working at it."
"Keep practicing, and be confident in what you're doing...you have to be confident in everything you do," added Stokes. "You have to believe that you can do it, and believe you can get to where you want to go."