MRU’s volleyball teams ready to hit the court in new and exciting season
By Matthew DeMille, Sports Editor
Mount Royal University’s (MRU) volleyball teams opened a new chapter in their programs’ history last weekend when they began their regular seasons on the road in B.C. Facing off against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (UBC), the two programs got off to a rocky start. While the men’s team opened up their weekend with a 3-2 win over the Thunderbirds, the B.C. team enacted their revenge the next evening — handing the Cougars a 3-1 loss on Saturday night. The women’s program faced even tougher results as they failed to win a set all weekend, losing both of their matchups against UBC by an identical, 3-0, score.
Now, the two teams will head back to MRU’s Kenyon Court as they get prepared for their home-opening match against the UBC Okanagan Heat (UBCO) on Friday, Oct. 27.
With each team only having completed their opening weekend of games, much is still unknown about how the rest of the regular season will bode in their respective leagues. However, if last season is of any indication, both programs will be hunting for a collection of victories along with a title or two.
At the end of the 2022-23 regular season, the men’s and women’s programs boasted an impressive and identical record of 19-5, including second-place finishes in the Canada West regular season standings.
Albeit, their playoff performances weren’t so similar.
The women’s program claimed a spot in the Canada West Championship, taking home a second-place finish after a subsequent loss to the Trinity Western Spartans. While slightly disappointed about being the runners-up in the playoffs, the finish was enough to grant them entrance into the season-culminating U SPORTS National Championship for the second consecutive year.
And, despite being a crew riddled with injuries, the women’s program mustered up a fifth-place, consolation title at the country-wide tournament.
For fifth-year setter Sarah McKillican, her second experience at the National Championships was one that she will always remember — no matter the result.
“I’m from B.C., so going to play at [the University of British Columbia] was so awesome. All my family was able to come out and watch,” said McKillican.
“We always talk about, ‘it’s the memories that you make during the process. It’s not about the games that you win or lose, we don’t remember that longer term. We remember the memories and stuff.’ So, I think that’s the main thing that we were focusing on. Like, yeah, it sucks that we lost our quarterfinal, but we made the most of it and we enjoyed our time [at the National Championship].”
A third-straight trip to the National Championship isn’t out of the question for McKillican and her team, either. While the team isn’t too stressed about finding wins and positive results immediately, they do understand what it takes to nab a spot in the tournament.
“There’s so many teams that are deserving to go, but I think since we’ve been there the last couple years, we know how much we want it, so that helps us,” shared McKillican.
“We got these goals to make it to nationals and hopefully we just keep growing throughout the year and make it there.”
With long-time players, Maddy Marshall, Quinn Pelland, Haley Roe and Nyadholi Thokbuom graduating over the offseason, this year’s Cougars team will look at its list of returning players and new recruits to step up and fill in the recently-open gaps.
“I’m so excited for this group of girls,” smiled McKillican.
“I’ve been very impressed with everybody. Everyone’s so hardworking [and] driven. Everyone just wants to get better and prove themselves.”
Inversely, the second-seeded, men’s program dealt with a tougher blow during their post-season push. The team bowed out in the first-round of the Canada West playoffs, following a series-sweep at the hands of their Crowchild Trail rivals, the University of Calgary Dinos.
For fifth-year business student and middle blocker Luis Lange, his team became too focused on the wider scope of their previous season instead of following a weekend-to-weekend approach.
“I think we put a lot of focus into our regular season, which I don’t think we should miss out on again this year. But the playoffs [are] the team that’s better that weekend, not necessarily overall.”
And, in a similar fashion to the women’s program goals and expectations, Lange believes a trip to the nationals is also very achievable for the men’s team.
“This is arguably the most open the league has been since I’ve been here and there’s going to be a lot of good competition every weekend,” Lange said.
“As a team, we’ve definitely established that we want to be playing for a national championship this year.”
The skill of Lange and his cohort hasn’t gone unnoticed. Prior to the season-opening weekend, the annual Canada West preseason coaches poll listed the Cougars as the second-best team among Western Canada institutions — just four points behind the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
But the preseason rankings haven’t changed anything in the team’s perspective. For them results always trump the rankings.
“I think it’s a nice pat on the back, but that’s kind of how all I take it,” he said.
“This league is so competitive that any weekend, any team can beat another team. It’s a very competitive league for that reason. That’s why I love playing here. So, again, pat on the back but [the poll] doesn’t mean much to me or the team.
On Friday, Oct. 27 and Saturday, Oct. 28, the men’s and women’s team will take to the Kenyon Court to host the UBCO Heat in their home-opening weekend.