Both NAIT volleyball squads are off to a great start in 2015 after racking up wins in the Thunderdome. The women opened the second half by sweeping the Concordia Thunder in both road matches while the men endured the storm in a pair of 3-1 wins. The women improve to 8-6, keeping the team amongst the leaderboard in the North Division. NAIT’s guys streak, including regular season and exhibition play, to six straight. The Ooks sit atop the North Division with 12 wins.
Tension rarely reared its contorted face during the women’s matches. The Ooks played efficient volleyball from start to finish, limiting errors and putting pressure on the Thunder’s serve receive. Set scores were 25-21, 25-16, 25-17 and 25-12, 25-18, 25-18. Setter Maegan Kuzk (20 assists and seven digs) and Candice Hughes (eight kills and 18 digs) received player of the game honours.
The sweep is indicative of the upward trend in the team’s play since mid-November. After losing on the 22nd of that month, the squad is 4-0 in league play and also played well during the Christmas break. Co-hosting a New Year’s tournament with the King’s Eagles, the ladies went 2-1; defeating a pair of nationally ranked teams in Lakeland and Briercrest. Poise played a key role in the victories.
“Even though we weren’t playing that well at times, we didn’t get too freaked out,” said Heinrichs.”
The men faced a new look Concordia squad, who have several players back from injury. Despite slow starts both nights, the Ooks rallied against Concordia’s scrappy defence with strong serving and superior ball control. The coaching staff also utilized several players on the roster who haven’t made a regular appearance on the court this season. Set scores were 24-26, 25-21, 26-24, 25-15 and 23-25, 25-19, 25-19, and 25-21. Jordan Teliske (14 kills, seven digs and three blocks) and Justin Knight (11 kills and two aces) were the POG’s Friday and Saturday respectively. Head coach Doug Anton credited the opponents and the younger Ook players who took to the court.
“The Thunder were well prepared and pressed us hard both nights. We went with a few younger players this weekend and it was a good opportunity for some of our future stars to learn what the ACAC is all about.”
The sweep comes after a tremendous showing over the break against elite competition. On January 2 and 3, the Ooks took part in an invitational tournament in Camrose, facing South Division teams. The boys handled the Lethbridge Kodiaks and SAIT Trojans in straight sets and also defeated Red Deer, the top-ranked team in the country. Results, =however, were less of a concern for the team than getting everyone back in rhythm.
“The main goal was to get back to our playing competency after a fairly significant break from competition and I think we succeeded in that,” said head coach Doug Anton. “We got better every match, and got a chance to play some of our younger players that don’t necessarily get to play during the season.”
The women’s team have six wins in the past seven matches and can move up the standings with a few more. NAIT sits one win back of third and three wins from a tie in first place with the Eagles. While there are steps not yet taken, the ladies are headed in the right direction.
“The momentum we had in the last couple weeks showed how much we improved, dropping our errors below double digits,” said Heinrichs. “We are thinking the game a lot better now and that makes me confident we are going to continue that down the road.”
Now that the men sit atop the standings, they can focus on strengthening specific areas for season’s end. The squad faces a few tough tests yet, including a road trip to Fort McMurray, and face the dangers of injury and fatigue that every group does over the winter semester. However, with the depth and fitness level of this team, Anton’s players are well equipped to deal with these hurdles on the road to the post season.
The two teams now have a weekend of rest ahead of them before hitting the NAIT court on January 23. That Friday evening, the Ooks host the King’s Eagles.
By JOSH RYAN