One of the things about being a powerhouse program is that nationals are always a part of the plan.
So the Vancouver Island University Mariners women’s volleyball team should be prepared – they’ve been planning for this all along.
“It’s not just a one-week preparation for nationals. It’s an entire season getting them ready,” said Shane Hyde, coach of the M’s.
They’ve achieved goals along the way to reach this stage. VIU’s women finished first in the Pacific Western Athletic Association, then won a provincial championship a week and a half ago.
Now they’ll take on the best college competition in the country starting Thursday (March 6) at Seneca College in Toronto. VIU starts with a match against the Mount Saint University Mystics at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.
Hyde said the coaching staff will have a game plan, make some tweaks, call timeouts at the right time, make player substitutions when need be. Other than that, the coaches will essentially let the Mariners loose.
“Now it’s almost the time to let the reins off and say, ‘Our job as coaches is done. Let’s see what you’ve got.’”
What the Mariners have got is an all-star-laden lineup. At the PacWest championships they showed their versatility, too, with different players leading the charge.
“That was probably one of the best things that could have happened to us, because now we really know the depth of our team and we’ll see what we can do with it,” said Tylar Turnbull, VIU middle.
She, Megan Groenendijk and Ashley Cousens were all-stars at provincials and VIU also boasts league all-stars Leanna Gildersleeve, Ashley Van Acken, Alyssa Wolf and other contributors.
The coach said the group seems to have a lot of the right attributes. At this stage of the season, Hyde said, experience is big, but so too is mindset and determination.
He pointed out that one of the other favourites in the tournament, the Red Deer Queens, are just as good as the Mariners, if not better.
“So it comes down to who’s got that little extra push,” Hyde said.
Groenendijk said the Mariners proved some of their mettle with their performance at provincials.
“We had that extra tenacity to not let the ball drop, to try 100 per cent for everything,” she said. “Just hit that little bit harder, celebrate that little bit louder … Every point’s just a little bit closer to your end goal.”
The Mariners will go step by step, facing unfamiliar opponents, all champions of their own leagues. Groenendijk said it can be scary taking on an unknown team, but at the same time it can be helpful because it forces the M’s to bring their A game and brace for the match.
It’s time for the VIU Mariners to see what they’ve got, in other words.
“Our team’s skill and the way we play volleyball has already been determined. We already know how to play volleyball,” Turnbull said. “Now it comes down to, can we come together? And can we find it within ourselves and within the team to pull through?”
COURT SHORTS … All matches at the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championships will be webcast live at www.ccaa.ca. To see another photo from the Mariners’ last practice at the VIU gym, please click here.