Vancouver Island University Mariners middle Tylar Turnbull spikes the ball during a match against the Fraser Valley Cascades last month at the VIU gym. She plays her last match at the VIU gym on Friday (Feb. 19).

Veteran turns it up at VIU gym

Mariners women's volleyball team captain Tylar Turnbull plays her final match in Nanaimo before leading her squad into provincials.

For VIU’s women’s volleyball team, everything revolves around the middle of the court, where Tylar Turnbull stands tall.

The Mariners captain is a one-woman “wrecking crew” at her position, said Shane Hyde, the team’s coach.

“She offensively is one of the most dynamic middles in the country, but with her defensive skills, her blocking, she’s just extremely well-rounded,” he said.

Turnbull has been a national champion, an All-Canadian, a PacWest Player of the Year, a VIU Athlete of the Year, team captain and an ambassador for VIU athletics.

And now she’s about to play her last-ever match at the Vancouver Island University gym. Turnbull has already helped her team clinch first place in the PacWest, but provincials – and if all goes well, nationals – will be held elsewhere.

She hadn’t spent much time thinking about the fact that she’s in her last year, but then this past weekend on the road, a graduating opposing player was acknowledged and it struck Turnbull that she’s in the same boat.

The Mariners first scouted their future star back when she was playing for Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary. She wasn’t seriously considering VIU, but she was convinced to check out the program and participate in a practice.

By the time she boarded the ferry home, she knew VIU was where she wanted to be.

“Just practising with the girls made it seem more real and it made me realize that this is the kind of environment and the culture that I wanted to play with,” she said.

That was only reinforced in her rookie season, when the M’s won the Canadian championship in their home gym.

“It really showed me what it’s going to take to get to that level myself, too,” said Turnbull, who saw limited action that year. “It was an eye-opener for the things that could happen and just made me want it so much more.”

Since then, her game has developed to the point where Hyde said Turnbull is “by far the best middle that’s ever played for our program.” She leads the league in blocks, she’s seventh in kills and third in total offence. She hasn’t had a bad match all season.

“She’s been playing amazing all year and that’s why we have this cushion in first place, is because of Tylar leading us,” the coach said.

Becoming so central to her team’s game comes with pressure, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.

“I definitely think that I hold myself to that level of always wanting to be that go-to [player] and to have the team be able to count on me. So there is always that little bit of pressure – I have to do this because this is what I am here for,” she said. “But I enjoy it and that’s kind of why I like to play.”

The criminology major doesn’t know what’s next for her, or if it will include volleyball, and will “see what happens.” Before any of that, there is this season, and playoffs, and one last match in the gym that felt like home, right from the start.

“VIU women’s volleyball program is such an amazing program,” she said. “I am so thankful for it, to have had it as part of my life for the last five years.”

GAME ON … Turnbull and fellow fifth-year Kelsey Johnson will be honoured before the game Friday (Feb. 19) when the Mariners host the Camosun Chargers at 6 p.m. A men’s match will follow at 8 p.m.

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