COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Victoria Dakin passes the ball during the Brandon University Bobcats women’s volleyball team’s practice Thursday at the Healthy Living Centre. Dakin is part of a deep team that is aiming for a return to the Canada West playoffs this season.
The Brandon University Bobcats are looking to snap their two-year Canada West women’s volleyball playoff drought this season, and go well beyond that.
Bobcats head coach Lee Carter feels his team is built to not only make the playoffs but to make a run for one of three Canada West spots, in addition to the host Regina Cougars, at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship.
"I think we can," said Carter, whose team went 8-14 last season. "We definitely have the horses to do damage. We can score everywhere. We have two great setters. We’re not an injury away from being in trouble. We have depth and it’s exciting that we have that and the girls are quite confident in each other."
Unlike the past few seasons when the middle has been the real strength of the Bobcats, this year’s squad is the most well-rounded group since the 2010-11 team that featured the likes of Sara Grona, Teagan Hunter and Erin Visch-Krahn as starters. Those three are now assistant coaches to Carter.
Brandon returns five starters in fifth-year setter Kellie Baker, fifth-year middle Lexi Loewen, fourth-year middle Meaghan Robertson, fourth-year outside hitter Victoria Dakin and third-year left side Shanlee McLennan. McLennan, along with backup setter Mary Thomson and middle/right side Jodie Baker, had a busy summer playing in the Canada Games with the bronze medallist Manitoba squad.
The biggest addition to the Bobcats is the return of second-year libero Donata Huebert. The 5-foot-9 German import was named the CIS libero of the year during the 2010-11 campaign before leaving Brandon to play professionally in Europe. Her return gives Brandon a very solid passer in the back and an experienced set of eyes.
"Being a front-row hitter she adds a perspective of who’s blocking where and what their defence looks like," said Dakin, one of the Bobcats’ captains. "She just adds little tips here and there from the backcourt and it’s a big help for us."
Although Dakin will play a big role on the team, she’s still not sure whether she’ll start on the right or left side when the Bobcats open their Canada West season tonight against the Cougars at 6 o’clock at the Healthy Living Centre. The 6-foot-0 Calgary native, who was BU’s kill leader last year, has started at right side for the last two seasons and will be one of the starting outside hitters along with McLennan. Carter, however, plans to rotate players in the other starting spot on the outside.
He’s looking at rotating New Zealand import Vaovai Aiono, Brandonite Jodie Baker and Calgary’s Brianna Walsh — when she recovers from her broken foot — at that seventh position depending on Brandon’s opponent.
"We really like our depth, and we played a lot of people in pre-season," said Carter, who’s team posted an 8-2 record in exhibition play. "There was a lot of really good combinations.
"We can go big with Jodie on right side and Tori and Shanlee on left side and swinging or we can go fast with Vaovai on the left side and Tori on the right side. We can go a lot faster. We don’t have to worry about it and, as long as Donata stays healthy, we know we’ll be able to get the ball to Meaghan and Lexi and Jodie if they’re in the middle and all three of them are capable."
While the Bobcats have the talent and are a much-more experienced bunch than they were last season, they know the road to a top-four finish in the conference won’t be easy.
Four of the top six teams in the most recent CIS rankings are from Canada West — UBC is first, Trinity Western is second, UBC Okanagan is fourth and Brandon is tied for fifth with York — and the Bobcats were ranked as the conference’s fifth-best team in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll behind UBC, Trinity Western, Manitoba and UBCO.
To finally get over the hump, the Bobcats will need to consistently play at a high level, which the team struggled to do last season, and make sure they don’t let the hype get to their heads.
"We’ve had a really successful pre-season, which is a confidence boost, but we want to make sure we stay level-headed knowing that every team has competition in this league and every day everybody could play differently," Dakin said.
No. Name Position Year Height Hometown
1 Victoria Dakin OH 4 6-0 Calgary
2 Lexi Loewen M 5 6-0 Winkler
3 Donata Huebert Lib 2 5-9 Minden, Germany
4 Regan Dahl LS 1 6-0 Grande Prairie, Alta.
5 Shanlee McLennan LS 3 5-11 Winnipeg
6 Gillian Leech LS/Lib 2 5-10 Brandon
7 Kellie Baker S 5 5-10 Brandon
8 Brianna Walsh LS 3 5-11 Calgary
10 Mary Thomson S 2 5-10 Brandon
12 Savannah Guttman S 1 5-11 Dauphin
13 Margy Lafaele RS 1 5-9 Auckland, NZ
15 Jodie Baker M 2 6-1 Brandon
16 Meaghan Robertson M 4 6-2 Brandon
17 Vaovai Aiono LS 1 5-11 Auckland, NZ
Head coach: Lee Carter (ninth season)
Assistant coaches: Kevin Neufeld, Derek Richels, Lisa Nichol, Erin Visch-Krahn, Sara Grona, Erin Henning, Teagan Hunter.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2013