Peaks and valleys of the NAIT women’s volleyball team

by | Jan 30, 2023 | Sports

The NAIT Women’s Volleyball Team has had a roller-coaster of a season. From untimely injuries and players having to adapt to new positions, the 4-18 Ooks have yet to reach their full potential, with January ringing in the second part of the conference season, the team is hungry to show that they are not to be underestimated in the ACAC.

Last Season 

October was a rough opening month for the team as they played five exhibition games and six conference matches. Unfortunately, they could not pull out a win, going 0-11. Some players were rehabbing injuries, and their roster was taking untimely changes.

Photo by NAIT Athletics

Head Coach Erminia Russo Thorpe was also trying to find a starting lineup that would get them some wins. But with all the extra distractions, the team could not find their groove. 

The month of November was solid for the Ooks. Starting lineups were formed, setters connected better with hitters, and fewer balls hit NAIT’s side of the floor. Still, they could not get that elusive win as they went the month 0-6. Even without a win, the Ooks showed they were a much stronger team than before, making sets much closer. They even pushed ACAC South number two ranked Lethbridge College to five before losing 15-10 in the decisive set. Overall, the Fall proved to be a tough stretch for the team. But they showed they could play more as a unit as the season went on. Hopes were high going into the much-needed December break.

This Season 

The team’s current track record of 4-18 doesn’t inspire confidence. But that record does not represent the caliber of the players they have. From girls using their last year of eligibility to girls in their first year of play, the Ooks show that they have depth in every class. 

The star fifth-year players for the team are setter Kate Krogen and middle/right-Side Kayla Zazula. On the season, Zazula has 65 kills and is hitting 0.121 while also contributing ten solo blocks. She moved from the middle to the right side this year, and Russo Thorpe praised her for making a smooth transition, saying she hits the ball well on the right and brings a better block. 

Kate Krogen is a setter averaging 6.67 assists per set; she is the team assist leader and ranks 11th in the ACAC standings. Krogen is the team’s heartbeat, with Russo Thorpe calling her their effort player and saying she will fly into the bleachers and the wall for you. The coach wishes that Krogen had one more year of eligibility as she has fully embraced the role of quarterback and understands how to run the floor.

The Ooks also have some young players who have impacted the floor with their standout performances. Year one outside hitter Charlotte Vandenelzen is second on the team in both digs and kills, with 92 and 71 respectively. Her powerful line shot set hers apart from other outsides, and she has adapted quickly to the style of ACAC play.

Year one outside hitter, Charlotte Vandelzen, is the second ranked player on the team currently. Photo by NAIT Athletics

Year two setter Hannah Zurakowski is the team’s jack of all trades. She has played libero, right side and setteretter for the Ooks this year. Russo Thorpe says Zurakowski brings great energy and defense to the floor.

One player who has shown the most overall improvement is year two middle Chaljang Both. Russo Thorpe’s project has 23 kills and four blocks on the season. She played sparingly in the fall and has worked her way up to becoming starting middle. Chaljang can hit over opposing blockers and disrupt a hitter’s game with her monster-defensive skills. 

Overall, these players have shown their worth on the court and are hungry to get some wins under their belt.

Team Strengths 

One of the team’s strong suits this year has been its defense. Even if their offense was not clicking consistently, their defense was something they could rely upon. The Ooks on the year are averaging 12.44 digs per set and 1.31 blocks per set, ranking them third and sixth in the ACAC. The team prides itself on defense and has shown its ability to break down its opponent’s offenses multiple times this year. In one game, they held the visiting Olds College Broncos to a negative -0.037 hitting percentage, a season-low. Players like Karly Birkinshaw, Kayla Zazula, Kate Krogen, and Charlotte Vandenelzen can dominate the backcourt or at the net.

Anika Dyck leads the team with 132 digs. Photo by NAIT Athletics

However, one special defensive weapon is fourth-year Outside Hitter Anika Dyck. She leads the team with 132 digs and is fifth in solo blocks with four on the season. Dyck says that “being able to read the players on the other side” has allowed her to become a good defender. 

“You might not get every block or every dig, and that’s okay. But the more effort you put in, the better the results will be.” The Ooks will need to rely on defenders like Dyck as NAIT goes through the second portion of conference play.

The Ooks have five more games left in the season—two against Concordia and Northwestern Polytechnic and one against Red Deer Polytechnic. 

Dyck says she is “excited to see what happens with the rest of the season.” 

Her coach shares the same excitement as she said the team had three really good practices in the new year and played great in an exhibition tournament at Augustana. The team is firing on all cylinders and is looking to end conference play strong. 

The next home game will be Saturday, January 28th, against the Concordia Thunder. Find their full schedule on the NAIT Ooks website.

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