It’s a mix of new and old on the University of Saskatchewan women’s volleyball squad this season.
The U of S Huskies — who play their Canada West conference home-opening series Friday and Saturday night (6 p.m., PAC) against visiting University of Calgary Dinos — are still searching for that elusive playoff berth.
They’ve come close in recent years. Head coach Mark Dodds believes the team is on the verge of being a top contender.
“Losing six players and six coming in, it’s a good mix of new players — high school and transfers — and veterans,” said Dodds.
“We’ve definitely got a talented group. We’re hoping to make a big splash in the Canada West. We’ve just got to find a way to put it altogether consistently and it’s going to be an exciting year.”
The biggest change is at the setter position where Alexander Frank and Averie Allard are battling to try and “figure out who’s going to be that consistent quarterback” in place of graduating starter Mackenzie Pek.
Gone from last season are fifth-year grads Pek, Marguerite Ferguson and Jenelle Sokoloski as well as Carissa Noble, Ruby Stefan and Sabrina Balisky.
The Huskies return most of their top weapons from last season in team offensive leader Emily Koshinsky (226 kills, 169 digs and 40 service aces last season) along with Taylor Annala (197 kills, 178 digs, 25 aces) and Regan Wiebe (155 kills, 26 aces).
Also back in the fold are middle Georgina Hurry (84 kills and a team-high 64 blocks), setters Frank (Tulane University transfer) and Allard, middle Brooke Listwin, libero Shae Beaulieu (214 digs), outside hitter Angela Lavoie and outside hitter Tallan Black, who returns, after a multi-year absence, to do her master’s degree.
Middle player Dani Forester is back after red-shirting last season.
Among the fresh faces are 2018 high school grads Mandi Fraser, Olivia Mattern, Julia Tregobov, along with Alberta college transfer Jessica Zacharias and medical red-shirt Hannah Toews.
The Huskies finished just out of the playoffs with a 9-15 record last season and 8-17 the year before. So far this season, Saskatchewan is 2-2.
“Our expectations haven’t necessarily changed,” said Dodds. “We’re out there trying to battle in every match and ultimately we want to be in the playoff race and give ourselves a chance to have a good weekend and potentially go to nationals. To get over that mental hump is a big one and it’s hard to compete when that pressure of the team’s history is on the backs of these players. But they really had nothing to do with the history of the program. We’re just trying to find a way to grind it out, stay day-by-day and see where we get to.”
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