New Zealand import Vaovai Aiono of the Brandon University Bobcats was named to the CIS women’s volleyball all-rookie team.
The Brandon University Bobcats women’s volleyball team was having a storybook season, until it came to an nightmarish end.
The squad had its best Canada West conference regular season in the Bobcats’ nine years of existence, finishing second with a 17-5 record and beating every team in the league at least once. However, they were upset on their home court in the first round of the playoffs by the UBC Okanagan Heat.
It’s with BU’s women’s volleyball team that we continue our end-of-season reports:
The Bobcats came into the season with a large number of returning players from the past two years, when the team narrowly missed the playoffs. This year the experience paid off.
Five of their seven starters were in their third, fourth or fifth years of eligibility. The other two were second-year Donata Huebert, who was named CIS libero of the year and a first-team all-Canadian, and 20-year-old rookie left side Vaovai Aiono, a New Zealand national team member who stepped right into a starting role and was named to the conference all-rookie team.
Brandon was solid in most areas. Fifth-year setter Kellie Baker finished fourth in the conference with 9.42 assists per set, while fifth-year middle Lexi Loewen set a team record with 102 blocks, good enough for fourth in Canada West. Fourth-year middle Meaghan Robertson finished as the fourth-most efficient hitter in the conference (.292), while third-year left side Shanlee McLennan’s 3.06 kills per set was 10th best in Canada West.
What was even more impressive was the team’s mindset. The Bobcats never felt like they were out of sets and proved it during the season as they overcame a 20-12 deficit against the national silver-medallist UBC Thunderbirds and a 20-9 deficit to the Winnipeg Wesmen.
"The girls really came in with a purpose and you could tell in their practice and their training that they really believed this was a different year and we were ready to make that jump to the top part of the league and you could just see it in them," BU head coach Lee Carter said.
It looked like Brandon was poised to win a playoff series and go to nationals for the first time ever.
The Bobcats were ranked second in the country going into the Canada West quarter-finals at the Healthy Living Centre with a 9-2 home record and loved playing in front of the crowd. However, the Bobcats came out a little flat and couldn’t recover against the Heat.
BU led for only seven rallies as it was swept in the opener and lost the momentum in the second set of the second match.
Carter and his players have had time to reflect on the series, and feel it was just a bad combination of being flat and UBCO playing its best volleyball of the season.
"In all our meetings and interviews and looking at what happened, we still can’t figure out what happened," Carter said. "It definitely wasn’t confidence and it wasn’t nerves. The girls felt until that final ball hit the ground that we were going to make the comeback. It was just a bad time to have a bad weekend."
Although it wasn’t the ending they wanted, the playoff loss may spur the Bobcats to a run at nationals next year. Carter believes that feeling they had in the silent locker-room after they were eliminated from the playoffs will bring that extra bit of motivation for a team loaded with returning players.
Brandon expects to lose only Baker and Loewen. Mary Thomson showed she is more than capable of filling in at setter, while Jodie Baker and South Dakota State transfer Courtney Roberts are expected to battle to replace Loewen.
"We’re really excited about next year," Carter said. "The team took a two-week break and they’re back and training hard and the fitness testing was the best fitness testing we’ve had and they’ve really committed to that. … Next year will be even better than this year."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 21, 2014