Cinderella story for Huskies volleyballer

LEADER: Mari Pikkov has been described by her coach, Darcie Vujacic, as a powerhouse and a hard-working organizer of volleyball tournaments.

Mari Pikkov went from cast-off to captain

When Mari Pikkov’s volleyball career started at Humberside, she was cut from the junior team by coach Darcie Vujacic.

It was that dismissal that would lead to a tall, lanky Pikkov joining the senior volleyball team under Ed Kirss, and thus began her self-described Cinderella story.

“The junior team had a lot of experienced players and she had no experience so (Kirss) said, ‘You know what? I need some height so I’ll just take her and a couple of the tall girls and see what we can do’,” Vujacic said. “Ed worked with them a lot. In summers he would take them down (to Ashbridges Bay) and they would hit balls over and over.”

In those four years, Pikkov has become one of the most dynamic players on the Huskies senior team, picking up the mantle as captain.

“It’s a nice role to have,” she said, of being team leader. “I’m used to having weight on my shoulders, so I guess it’s good.”

A strong work ethic has led her to organize the senior girls Snowbird tournament, which took place Dec. 16.

“I know last year we didn’t have a Snowbird tournament because organization kind of fell out because we didn’t have the opportunity to hold it at our school,” Pikkov said. “I thought it would be a good idea for my last year and for everybody else to have a good final Snowbird tournament.”

Though the ladies bowed out in the semi-finals against Malvern CI, Pikkov’s dominance at the net as power has impressed current senior girls coach Vujacic, who has taken over for Kirss.

After coming back from maternity leave, Vujacic has seen the fruits of Pikkov’s hard work.

“She’s definitely a powerhouse,” she said. “There is no question she’s definitely the most talented player on our team.”

But Pikkov admits how she’s adapted to the leadership role is a tough question to answer with eight club players playing along side her on the Huskies squad.

One possible reason is her respect for those past volleyballers like Melissa Humana-Paredes who she’s learned a lot from and even her current teammates, including best friend Isabelle Montgomery.

“Playing with (Melissa) for two years was a really good experience and she’s a really good passer,” Pikkov said. “Learning from her and watching her, it’s really pushed me to do better and try to work harder, to up my level of play.

“It was a really positive experience working with her.”

As for Montgomery, it’s about tough love when their on-court performances are less than tenacious.

“We do rely on each other a lot,” she said. “We’ll demand better out of each other all of the time, so if she’s not setting right, I will try to get her to focus a little bit more.

“And if I am not passing or not hitting she’ll kind of tell me, ‘Come on Mari, let’s go’.”

When she’s not digging deep for the Maroon and Grey, Pikkov suits up for the OVA’s Leaside Lightning. And hopefully, she’ll be able to parlay that experience into her post-secondary career.

Queen’s University’s coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane has been in touch, and she’s been in contact with other universities.

Pikkov’s desire to keep on spiking is not due to the athleticism but to the mental challenges in-game.

“I like the intensity and how it’s not about who’s better, who’s considered to be a better team, if they’re considered to have an all-star team,” she said. “I like how it’s really anybody’s game and who wants it more.

“It’s a very mental game, and I like it,” she added. “It’s not about who is the strongest or who is the fastest. It’s about who can withstand it mentally.”

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