Young team struggled to go deep in playoffs

A focus on teamwork will be key for next season

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Mustangs women's volleyball

Jonas Hrebeniuk

YOU STOLE THE COOKIES FROM THE COOKIE JAR! Western's women's volleyball team had a fairly disappointing showing in the Ontario University Athletics postseason this year, falling short to the McMaster Marauders in the semi-final.

After a slow start, the women’s volleyball team finished with a 12-7 record for the season. The Western team was beat at the beginning of the year by Brock, Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier universities in close games: 3-2, 3-2, 3-0, respectively.

The team lost 3-1 to the technically and tactically strong McMaster Marauders in the Ontario University Athletics West division semi-finals, ending its hopes for a championship this year. The Marauders finished in first-place in the OUA West division.

This season Western struggled with weaker teams and lost games it was favoured to win. However, the team rose to the challenge when it faced stronger teams in its division.

The Mustangs were unable to beat the Guelph Gryphons (8-11) in both of their games, losing 3-0 and 3-1. Even with these setbacks, the team had a strong seven-game winning streak near the middle of its season and also had seven shutout wins during the regular season.

The Mustangs had three players make the OUA West division All-Star team. One of the league’s top defensive players, Andrea Ruste, captured a first-team OUA West libero spot and second-team all-star.

Ruste led Western defensively with 312 digs this season. With 491 sets, Jenna Thomson was also named a second team All-Star. Outside hitter Elaine Screaton had 144 kills during the regular season and won OUA Rookie of the Year.

“I think we out-blocked our opponents in nearly every match in the season, and that definitely helped us a lot,” fourth-year veteran Lauren Willoughby said.

“We went in the direction of the solid-blocking, but ‘slimy’-attacking team, which was great for us, but our inconsistency at times prevented it from working in certain situations against certain teams.”

The team experienced an “emotional low point” Willoughby said, but bounced back the following weekends by winning 10 of its next 11 games.

The team’s lack of experience was also a challenge this year, as six of the 13 women were first-year students.

“With so many new players, it was all about learning to work beside someone new,” Ruste said.

Though the team’s season had a disappointing outcome, Thomson said there were still positives to take away.

“We had a lot of improvement and by playing together we got better,” Thomson said. “The team will have more experience working together [next season].”

After losing many players from the previous season, the team had to adapt to its new situation, which took a while.

“When you boil it down, the team was very young and experienced a lot of ups and downs,” head coach Dean Lowrie said.

“With so many different stresses each girl is facing throughout their university experience, we want to get everyone on the same page and [we] have a lot of team meetings to do so.”

By focusing on being more team-oriented and working with each other through experience, the team will forge a stronger bond, both on an athletic level and support level.

The team began training last week and is working on all aspects of its game in order to bring a faster, stronger and more competitive team next year.

“Creating a culture to keep the girls motivated and excited [is crucial]. If not, they will have difficulty making the roster and being a real challenger for all other teams,” Lowrie said.

Emphasis will also be placed on simple consistency and getting solid serve patterns, improving serve receive and maintaining the blocking game. Lowrie believes the team must improve athletically as well.

Lowrie’s approach is to focus on the agility, quick thinking, strength and overall core fitness that will improve the team’s abilities.

His strategy is to focus on weaknesses early so come next year the team can adapt to any new challenges.

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