By Zachary Flynn

Most teams find the energy of their home venue to be a boost to team morale and bring extra energy to their play. For the NAIT Ooks women’s volleyball team, they’ve found it impossible to win in the NAIT gymnasium this year.

The team is finishing 2019 with an overall record of 4-8, but a record of 4-2 on the road. Head coach Benj Heinrichs had a laugh about the odd statistics and says it’s just the way the season’s played out.

“I think early on, our first home match that we lost to Concordia, we weren’t ourselves. We were really nervous but after that, it’s just how it rolls,” said Heinrichs.

“We’ve learned some things [at home], adjusted and gone on the road and won. And we’ve had a couple really tough matches at home too. We’ll get a win in the second half in our home gym for sure.”

Of the 24 sets the team has played in the NAIT gymnasium, more than a third of them were decided by less than three points.

“We’ve just got to learn to get a little tougher in those situations but I think it’s going to lead to some good things in the second half [of the season],” said Heinrichs.

The Ooks are also heavily relying on some first-year players who have worked their way into the starting lineup.

Haley Sowell began the season on the bench, but by November, earned a spot in the starting lineup as libero.

“She just passes at such a high level,” Heinrichs said of the first-year player.
“Digs go without saying but really what you want a libero to do first is serve-receive and she’s just far and away our best passer.”

Mia Hildebrandt has also seen her name on the starting lineup from day one and has played a key role in the Ooks’ offence. As a middle, she is a key blocker and a go-to player for kills. Recently, she’s been moved to an outside hitting position and coach Heinrichs sees that as an opportunity for success in the new year.

“We just knew we needed more offence out there, we just weren’t getting enough kills. She’s big, physical and jumps well so she’s going to be able to get us a few more kills,” said Heinrichs.

Ultimately, he’s looking for better results in 2020 as the team looks to qualify for provincials.

“We’re obviously not super happy with our record after the first half but I think we’ve done a lot of good things and we’ve put ourselves in positions to win a couple,” he said.

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