Seventh heaven struggle
By John Intini
"A couple of bad days" at the University of Alberta was, in the mind of Western Mustang women's volleyball coach Dean Lowrie, the reason why the team's successful season ended this weekend at the Canadian championships.
The Mustangs were the first Ontario West representative in 21 years to make it to the national championship and going into the tournament, Western was ranked seventh of the eight competitors.
As a result, the 'Stangs had it tough from the beginning and lost to second-ranked University of British Columbia (15-10, 15-7, 15-11) on Thursday. The defeat relegated Western to the consolation bracket, where the Mustangs lost to the University of Montreal (15-10, 15-13, 15-6) on Friday.
"The game against Montreal was definitely a disappointment," Lowrie said. "We knew UBC was tough and they showed us that in the first game. We should have won our second game but they just played us tough and we made some mistakes."
In Western's third game, the team was pitted against Dalhousie and beat them quite easily in three sets (15-10, 15-6, 15-12) to finish the tournament in seventh-place.
"It was great to end off the year with a win," said Mustang Marnie Simpson. "It was a bit disappointing to come this far and not play better, but the last game showed we can compete in these big tournaments."
As has been the case in recent years, the championship was dominated by schools from Western Canada. The weekend proved no different, as the Alberta Pandas defeated the Manitoba Bisonettes in the final.
"The West has a long history of a good development model and a great schedule," Lowrie said. "By playing against other top programs, it gives your club a good base from which to prepare for national championships. In order for the Eastern schools to succeed, we will definitely have to change our schedule around to make things tougher."
Simpson agreed with her coach, adding that for Ontario's teams to be successful at the national level, regular season competition will have to be tougher.
"Until the schedule changes in Ontario it will be tough for any team from the East to compete," she said.
Graduating senior Bonnie Matsubayashi said the most disappointing thing about the tournament was the club's inability to move up the rankings, but said the experience was certainly a memorable one.
"It is an incredible way to end off five years at the school," she said. "Sure the outcome is a bit of a disappointment, but this is going to be one of my fondest memories of university volleyball and I am overjoyed that I was finally able to get a shot at the national title."
Looking ahead, Western will now enter a transitionary period with Simpson being the only starter not leaving the team.
"Things will be different next year, but one good thing is that we are sure to be quicker and bigger," Lowrie said. "Getting to the national championships this year was a great boost for our program and will be a goal for the club when things get going again next year."