Elton graduate Brooke Huculak passes the ball in practice earlier this week. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
During his job interview to become the first women’s volleyball coach at Brandon University eight years ago, Lee Carter said he wanted to build a national champion with as many Westman-based players as possible.
The area has produced a lot of top-end talent over the years, which should help make recruiting for Carter a little bit easier, but that isn’t necessarily the case. While he doesn’t have to look far to find quality players he’d like to commit to his program, other universities also know all about the area and recruit heavily here. As a result, Carter has to work harder to convince players to stay home instead of going to bigger universities and communities.
That has caused Carter to lose a few players over the years — like Lisa Barclay to UBC or Tabi Love to UCLA — but that trend may be changing. This year’s Bobcats squad will feature seven players from the Westman area, and Carter couldn’t be prouder of that.
"I think it’s great," said Carter, who credits the work of local coaches like Kevin Neufeld and Derek Richels for producing so many talented players in the area. "Brandon’s been a volleyball-crazy town since I moved here eight years ago. … There’s a lot of great athletes in the area that if we keep most of them around, we’ll have a chance (to win a national title)."
This year’s recruiting class showed just how much talent there is in the Westman area. The Bobcats didn’t recruit anybody from outside Manitoba, and five of their six new players are coming from Brandon, Forrest or Russell. Three other Brandonites — Courtney Roberts (South Dakota State), Hope Schneider (Winnipeg Wesmen) and Zoe Pellerin (Wesmen) were also recruited by competing schools.
<t$>Carter’s five local recruits, combined with veterans like setter Kellie Baker and middle Meaghan Robertson of Brandon, means half the BU roster is from the southwest corner of the province. That and the new Healthy Living Centre, where the Bobcats will play all their regular season home games this season,
has new recruit Brooke Huculak excited for the year.<t-4.6>
"It feels like a totally different special year with the new gym and new recruits," the 5-foot-10 left side from Forrest said. "It feels like we’re really representing this area, which is great."
All the Bobcats’ veteran players have formed a close relationship, and the addition of more local talent has made what is often a difficult adjustment from playing high school volleyball to university volleyball a lot easier for the new recruits.
"We just work really well because everyone knows each other," said Jasmine Lafournaise, a 5-foot-11 middle from Russell.
"It does a lot (with team dynamics) because they’re comfortable with each other right away," added Carter. "In the spring, we train, we’re involved with the U17 and U18 club kids as well, so they get to meet some of the athletes. Brandon being a smaller community, they know each other already. They just fit in and it just helps them quite well."
Carter loves having the locals on his team and he thinks the addition of this recruiting class — which also includes Brandonites Jodie Baker, Mary Thomson and Gillian Leech and Winnipeg’s Kendra Bommersbach — to the eight returning veterans will bode well for Brandon this season and for the future.
"I’m really happy with the level of play we have," he said. "We’re deeper and we’re more evenly spread than we’ve ever been. We have a lot of athletes who are able to work their way into quality playing minutes because of the skill level we have."
The Bobcats, who are taking part in their first pre-season action this weekend in Regina, will also open the Canada West season in on Regina Oct. 26.
BU WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL TEAM:
Name Position Year Height Hometown
Jodie Baker Middle 1 6-1 Brandon
Kellie Baker Setter 4 5-10 Brandon
Kendra Bommersbach Libero 1 5-4 Winnipeg
Victoria Dakin Left Side 3 6-0 Calgary, Alta.
Brooke Huculak Left Side 1 5-10 Forrest
Jasmine Lafournaise Middle 1 5-11 Russell
Gillian Leech Left Side 1 5-10 Brandon
Alexis Loewen Middle 4 6-0 Winkler
Shanlee McLennan Left Side 2 5-11 Winnipeg
Chloe Reimer Left Side 3 5-9 Sanford
Meaghan Robertson Middle 3 6-2 Brandon
Mary Thomson Setter 1 5-10 Brandon
Larissa Vonkeman Middle 3 6-1 Lethbridge, Alta.
Brianna Walsh Left Side 2 5-11 Calgary, Alta.
Head Coach: Lee Carter (eighth year). Assistant Coaches: Lisa Nichol, Derek Richels, Erin Visch-Krahn, Becky Young, Sara Grona, Jaryn Ruether, Kevin Neufeld.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 22, 2012