No.4 nationally-ranked Cougars WVB are on the hunt
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
The Cougars women’s volleyball team is on the hunt for playoff success with the conclusion of the 2019/2020 season nearing its end.
No. 4 Mount Royal has been featured on the USPORTS top 10 since hitting sixth, all the way back in the first week of November. From the following week on, the Cougars rose to fourth and haven’t moved.
MRU also qualifies for playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and will end the season with their best record since the transition to USPORTS in 2012.
They enjoy a 19-3 record heading into the final weekend of the season and sit in second place which means for the first time in program history, they will host the first round of the Canada West playoffs at Kenyon Court.
The supporting cast this year has been one of the strongest according to Cougars volleyball head coach Sandra Lamb.
“We have players who are older and more mature. Team chemistry has been unreal. […] I would say it’s because they were more mature and bringing in players into the mix that have blended in well,” said Lamb.
“We get the job of hosting the first round of playoffs which is exciting. Playoffs are another season so it’ll be tough but we’re looking forward to it.”
For every well-oiled machine, there are the standout performers.
Third-year setter Quinn Pelland ranks third in Canada West for assists per set averaging 9.42 while sophomore Dholi Thokbuom holds the conference’s top hitting percentage count with .361 and sits fifth in blocks per set with a 1.12 count to her name.
Senior outside hitter Chantal Park leads Canada West with aces per set at 0.76 and has recently slipped into the top five all-time in aces count after reaching 154 aces.
On top of the maturation of her volleyball squad, coach Lamb helped bolster her team with the addition of de-facto nuclear weapon Tasha Holness.
Holness, 39, is literally a blast from the past for the Cougars.
She played for Mount Royal way back in 2003 for two years during the golden MRC days before she moved on to the university level at the U of A.
After one year with the Pandas, she moved onto the professional level for eight years that saw stops in Indonesia, Austria, Spain Azerbaijan, Germany, Indonesia again, Romania and France from 2006-2014.
Holness was also on the Canadian National team from 2006-2014 while playing eight years as a pro.
Lamb pulled her off a OneVolleyball court, a league designed for up-and-coming university talent and a place for returning pros and national team members to stay in touch with the game.
“I walked up to her and said, ‘Man, you don’t lose a lot.’ It stemmed from there and she still doesn’t have a career set in stone so I wasn’t taking anything away from her and she said ‘You know? Why not.’”
The rest is history. Holness is now a fourth-year eligible student and is finishing her finance degree.
She maintains her eligibility as there is no running clock on her USPORTS eligibility and you can take time between athletic seasons and the laws of USPORTS proves to have no restrictions on a returning player having previous association outside of university sports.
She’s been with the team since day one this year at the end of August and has suited up for every game since the start of the season.
“Tasha is an impact player and she’d be an impact if she didn’t play one match for us. Her experience has been invaluable,” Lamb notes.
“She’s been ripping up the court. In her younger days she was known for her physicality. She may not be able to jump as high or move as fast but she makes up for that with her experience and her play on the court.”
Lamb explains that even as a former pro, Holness had to reverse engineer her adjustment back down to USPORTS.
“The good news is: she’s experienced it so it doesn’t take long to catch on to things.”
The Cougars wrap up their season at home court against the Winnipeg Wesmen before starting their fifth consecutive playoff campaign.