CORNER BROOK For some it would be an impossible sacrifice, but for Cohen Chaulk it was simply the obvious choice.
The 17-year-old would be in the early stages of his graduating year with lifelong friends at Corner Brook Regional High this month, but instead he’s attending his Level 3 classes across the island at Holy Spirit High in Conception Bay South, living with his aunt and uncle and knowing only a few people relatively well.
Because opportunity knocked, and knocked hard.
Luke Harris, coach of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Sea-Hawks men’s volleyball team, was the one behind the door, offering Chaulk a chance to assist him with various tasks as he runs practice for the Sea-Hawks and get a firsthand look at how a varsity team operates.
Chaulk’s hope is he’ll make the team for real as a player next year.
“It was tough to decide to leave my friends, but I think it was the right move,” Chaulk said from St. John’s earlier this week. “When I got the offer (to help out) with volleyball, it was kind of a no-brainer that I would take it since volleyball is what I want to do with my university career.”
The son of Corner Brook’s Todd and Libby Chaulk has been wowing spectators of the sport for quite a while, since his Grade 7 coach Jim Randell asked him to try out for the school team.
“I liked it right away,” Chaulk, who plays the setter position, said. “I like the intensity and I just found it fun, so I stuck with it.”
One year later he made his first provincial team, a pretty staggering jump for a newcomer to the game.
“That’s kind of when I really took off with it for the first time,” he said.
Since that time, he’s become a weapon both on the hard court and in the sand. His hard work paid off this summer when he spent time training with the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association’s senior elite team in Quebec and Nova Scotia and even found floor time with the national men’s team in Ottawa.
“It was wild ... it was kind of eye-opening,” said Chaulk of the experience. “I really learned a lot.”
Upon returning home, he and his beach volleyball partner Chris Simmons would hit the sand 6 a.m. every morning to prepare for the men’s 24U Atlantic Beach Volleyball Championship at Parlee Beach in New Brunswick. They were the youngest team there, but managed to take home a bronze medal. Thanks in large part to that experience, they rolled through the bracket at the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games last month, winning gold without dropping a single set.
Chaulk believes success on the sand is a little easier to come by than inside a gymnasium.
“You can maintain what’s going on and your relationship with your partner a lot easier,” he said. “There’s a lot less going on.”
Simmons, who graduated from high school last spring, was recruited to play for the Sea-Hawks, according to Chaulk, but he decided to stay in Corner Brook for now. The two still plan to team up again for nationals in two years time, and both hope to attend an identification camp for the national men’s team at some point as well.
A provincial junior male volleyball player of the year award winner and SportNL athlete of the year nominee, Chaulk considers his ability to communicate and his leadership to be crucial elements of his success.
“I read the game well,” he said.
Sure, he misses his parents, other family and friends. Even old coaches.
But he just had to answer that door.
Not that he’s shut out Corner Brook entirely — he plans to play with club teams out east and is hoping a trip home for a few games against west coast competition might be in the cards.
That might provide the possibility of playing against some of his old friends, guys he has played side by side with since making that first cut back in Grade 7. Now he’d be staring them down from the other side of the floor.
A little strange? Certainly.
But as always, Chaulk will have his eye on the prize.
“I wouldn’t want to lose,” he said.