By Troy Langstaff
The conclusion of the 2019-20 AUS women’s volleyball season saw the Dalhousie Tigers sitting with an almost perfect 19-1 record. They cruised through the conference playoffs enroute to their eighth-straight AUS banner. At nationals they had a date with the Montreal Carabins in the quarter-finals, but the pandemic cancelled the tournament just hours before the first serve.
It’s been over 600 days since their last game and although this year's team is missing some pieces from the 2019-20 squad, they are still motivated to get back to nationals to “take care of some unfinished business” says head coach Rick Scott.
Dalhousie has been the team to beat in AUS women’s volleyball during the last decade and with that comes some added pressure to be successful.
“Pressure is a privilege, and we welcome that, we welcome the challenge,” says Scott. “We know teams are gunning for us, but we’re really excited about the opportunity of playing well and just trying to win a championship for our team this year, and that's kind of what our focus is.”
Victoria Haworth was one of six departing seniors from the last two years and during her five seasons in the black and gold she made quite a resume. She was a three-time AUS first team all-star and a U SPORTS second team All-Canadian in her final year. She led the Tigers in service aces twice and in blocks during all seasons except her rookie year.
Another departing senior was Courtney Baker. Baker played five seasons for Dalhousie and will go down as one of the best to don the Tigers colours. During her career she was a four-time AUS first team all-star, a two-time AUS MVP, two-time AUS championship MVP, three-time U SPORTS first team All-Canadian, a U SPORTS championship all-star in 2018-19 and to top it all off she was named the 2020 U SPORTS Player of the Year.
“They meant a lot to the program,” reflects Scott. “They all brought a lot of great play to our team as well as a lot of leadership, [and] they helped set the foundation and the culture for the years to come after their departure.”
This year's team will feature eight players making their debuts. Three of those players are from the 2020 recruitment class: Brett Boldon, Sydney Thompson, and Talia Vydykhan. The four players from this year's recruitment class are Alessandra Nadalini, Ella Hornby, Isabella Noble and Annick Boldon. The team will also be adding Abby Jenkins who is completing her masters at Dalhousie. Jenkins was part of the 2015 OUA All-Rookie while competing for the Brock Badgers.
“We had a really good recruiting class the last two years”, says Scott. “[We have] new players that bring a lot of energy and excitement and some really good players with lots of potential that are going to contribute to our team this year and moving forward.
The team is quite young with only a handful of veteran players including fourth-year outside hitters Victoria Turcot and Julie Moore as well as fifth-year outside hitter Sarah Dawe. Coach Scott wants this leadership core to continue doing what they’ve been doing over the last few years.
He says they should simply “be themselves, continue to provide leadership in their own way and continue with this healthy culture that we’ve established over the years [because] they’ve been doing a great job of that.”
The Tigers pre-season schedule concluded in early October with the team going 5-1 with the only fault coming against Saint Mary’s. “We played well overall. Our block defence was really good, and our offence was really balanced,” says Scott. “All players got a chance to play in a couple sets so they got to show what they can do. They did lots of good things and definitely saw some areas that we [have] got to continue to work on and continue to get better at.”
Dalhousie will play 20 regular season games with four against each opponent. The Tigers will host the AUS league tournament from November 19-21 with those matches counting as regular season games. The schedule kicks off this Saturday as the team hosts UNB at 3pm at the Dalplex. The season wraps up on February 19th when Dalhousie hosts cross-town rivals Saint Mary’s.
Even though there is almost a full month between the last pre-season game and the regular season opener, Scott knows the team will be ready to get back to game level intensity.
“They’re excited, they were excited when we went to UNB at the end of September and excited when we hosted some exhibition games,” adds Scott.
“They’re really excited to take a run at another AUS championship and get back to nationals and hopefully take care of some unfinished business there.”