It’s hard to argue that there’s anyone more deserving of a championship than the VIU Mariners women’s volleyball team.
Last winter they came as close to a national title as is literally possible. They scored match point against Mount Royal in the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association gold-medal final in St. John, N.B., and celebrated their victory – only to have their championship embrace rudely interrupted by an official reversing a call. The M’s were dumbfounded. They were dazed. The game got away from them. The championship was wrenched from their arms.
“We talk about it a lot … We learn from the good experiences and the bad experiences,” said Dani Smith, VIU veteran. “If anything, we’ve turned last year’s nationals into a really motivating thing.”
It took a long time for coach Shane Hyde to bring himself to watch the game film of that last match of 2010-11. The Mariners watched it together as a team just recently.
“It was a quiet night after that,” said Hyde.
But did they find closure? Well, kind of.
“It’s not forgotten, by any means,” said the coach.
Although last year might provide motivation, it really isn’t the focus now, seven months later. Much of the core returns, but the group has been reinforced with rookies and transfer players.
All-stars Smith, at setter, and Jacqueline Doleman, in the middle, are two of the leaders along with libero Tamara Rosenlund. Sandra Veikle, another libero, and rightside Shenise Power are other key returnees.
The power position is all-new, with highly touted rookie Alyssa Wolf ready to contribute along with transfers Jenn Clayton and Leanna Gildersleeve. Rookie middle Tylar Turnball and Nanaimo’s Bryanne Baynes are two other newcomers expected to get a share of playing time. Veteran Paige Wiebe, hurt last season, will see an expanded role.
“I really like the attitude of these girls; I really like the athleticism,” said Hyde.
What’s yet to be determined is their teamwork on the court. With the Pacific Western Athletic Association boosting the schedule to 24 matches this season, the coach decided to go with more depth on the roster and he’s tried to get everyone a share of playing time during the pre-season.
“We haven’t even tried to create a starting line,” Hyde said. “We’ve been mixing up our lineups like crazy, always having a new six out on the court. That’s probably hurt us for the short term but my goal this season is all about the long term.”
That’s because the Mariners can already map out almost exactly where the season is headed.
Vancouver Island University has been selected as host of the 2012 CCAA women’s national championships, so the M’s get an automatic berth.
When they get there, they can set about trying to right a wrong.
For now, they’ll take it a match at a time, starting with the season opener Saturday (Oct. 15) at the VIU gym against the College of the Rockies Avalanche.
“Shane tells us to focus on the process, and we never want to get ahead of ourselves,” said Smith. “We want to win a national final and get to that point in our season, but there’s a lot of things that we need to do to get there.”
GAME ON … The VIU Mariners women’s volleyball team faces COTR on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the VIU gym. The rematch goes Sunday at 11 a.m.