Previewing the women’s volleyball season

The Memorial Sea-Hawks women’s volleyball team are looking poised to turn a corner. Last year, Coach John Slauenwhite’s team finished middle of the pack, good enough to cement a respectable fourth seed in the post-season despite a 6-10 record, but were ousted by fifth seeded Moncton in the opening playoff match. Slauenwhite and his returning group of players have been hard at work during the off-season to build on last year’s positivity, while adding new recruits to strengthen the team,

When assessing a potential recruit, Slauenwhite says he takes everything into account. “Strong student athletes are a priority [for the team]. Are you academically strong? Are you a good teammate? Will you commit to the team’s covenants?” This is not to say athletic quality is neglected, either. “We’re happy with the added depth. [Our new recruits] are of a high caliber; three of our new recruits were named players of the year by their respective home volleyball associations.”

Slauenwhite says if there’s one area the team felt particularly deficient last year, it was strength through the middle in blocking opposition attacks. To address this, Slauenwhite struck two important coups from out of province. “We’ve brought in two important transfer athletes to add depth in the middle, Braxton Fentor and Layna Levorson, who are going into their third and fourth years respectively. Their experience and leadership will be essential to the team.” Having said that though, Slauenwhite notes returning middles Serena McNeil, Jordan Hutchinson and Catherine Ducey are “a year older and more experienced” which should give the team plenty of cover at the hot position.

Middle isn’t the only position that’s been beefed up during the off-season. The Sea-Hawks are not short of recruits, having added local standout Sarah Dawe (Mount Pearl) and national medalist Kier Fey (Winnipeg), as well as British Columbian Taryn Toscani. Setters Maiya Westwood (Rookie, Winnipeg), a national champion, and returning local sophomore Allison Poynter are short on experience, but Slauenwhite says they more than make up for it in pure, dynamic athleticism and competitive spirit.

Taking the next step involves success beating the best in the conference when it counts in the post-season. Slauenwhite has a watchful eye on the impressive Dalhousie Tigers unit, who completed a three-peat last year, triumphing over number one seeded St. Mary’s with ease in the final. Most teams have a large portion of their roster returning, and many have added a number of stellar recruits, just like Memorial. Asked about technical changes the team needs to make to stand above the rest, Slauenwhite was pragmatic in his answer. “We need to reduce the number of unforced errors we commit, and just generally be more consistent. Our team has doggedly worked to improve, and this is how we can show the biggest improvement.”

Having guided the team to maturity and improvement over the past several seasons, Slauenwhite says he clearly sees the fruits of his labour. “We’ve made many changes technically and tactically, as well as to our team culture. Championship teams aren’t built overnight, but we do feel we’ve recruited a lot of top talent, and have faith in our strong core of returning players.”

In closing, Slauenwhite underscores the explosive, dynamic nature of the team, and encourages fans new and old to show up and blanket home games at the field house in red and white. “This team will be exciting on both sides of the ball—look for us to climb the standings and challenge for the conference title in February.”

The Lady Hawks open their season on the road, with a three-game tour of Nova Scotia to play the St. Mary’s Huskies (Sept. 26—4:00 PM), Acadia Axewomen (Sept. 27—10:00 AM) and last year’s champion Dalhousie Tigers (Sept. 27—4:00 PM)