A Golden Season

By Lawrence Bailey

It was early evening and I sat in my hotel room in Laval, Quebec. My roommate
for the weekend was in the shower, getting ready for dinner. I sat on my bed,
while a dejected Amanda Moppett and her father sat on the bed across from me.

The then fourth-year Dino was drained, physically and emotionally, as it was
mere hours after the volleysaurs were eliminated from the national title hunt
by the upstart University of Winnipeg Wesmen. The mood was sombre, the conversation
guarded, jilted and quiet. Then, as Amanda rose to leave the room, a smile crossed
her face.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ll celebrate next year.”

With that, she left.

I sat there, considering the resolve, passion and confidence of the Dinos star
when my roommate emerged from the washroom.

“How’s Mopps?” he asked.

I smiled.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

A new season

Six months later, the Dinos kicked off the 2003-04 season, Moppett’s last. Despite
losing both starting middles (Tracy Keats to depleted eligibility and Jill Friend
to serious off-season shin surgery), the team was upbeat, vowing nothing short
of a national title would satisfy them. With five new players, a pair of unproven
starters at middle and a lot of questions surrounding the team, they received
a vote of confidence from coaches across the country: they were ranked #1 in
the preseason poll.

“I came here to win a national title,” explained third-year libero Neda Boroumand,
a transfer from Red Deer College. “I had a lot of choices, but this is the team
and the program that I want to win with.”

I asked the inevitable question to the returning Dinos: are you playing to win
one for Moppett?

“No,” replied outspoken third-year setter Natalie Schwartz bluntly, “I’m playing
to win for me, for all my teammates and for my school.

“Seeing Mopps win would be the icing on the cake.”

The team was close, united and looked like they were ready to roll. They were
confident, and they were focused. The only question was whether they could do
what the teams that came before them couldn’t–stand the test of time.

‘Sat., Feb. 21, 2004 was the last home match for a pair of Dinos mainstays.
Moppett, who had started every game since joining the program in 1999, would
play in front of the Jack faithful for the last time. Meanwhile, Friend had
staged a near-miraculous comeback from shin surgery to regain her starting spot
and a chance to shine on her home court one last time.

The opponent couldn’t be more fitting, the same Wesmen who had eliminated them
almost a year earlier. Now it was the Dinos chance to send the Wesmen packing
in the first round of the Canada West playoffs, as they held a 1-0 lead in the
best-of-three series on the strength of a victory the night before.

Up 1-0, the Dinos trailed 24-20 in the second game, and Moppett stepped back
to serve. The legions in the press box were getting their papers in order, anticipating
a quick ending.

They were being hasty.

Moppett served out the final six points, lifting the Dinos to a 26-24 triumph,
en route to a sweep of the Wesmen and a berth in the Canada West Final Four.

“You know what?” I said, turning to one of my press box colleagues, “this team
is going to win it all this year. They’ve learned how to refuse to lose.”

The first step

Dinos defeat Universite de Montreal Carabins

3-1 (25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 25-11)

In 2001, a ridiculously talented Dinos squad entered the national championship
in Winnipeg seeded second and walking with a swagger. They were promptly put
in their place, losing to the seventh-ranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues,
dashing their dreams of a national crown.

Head Coach Kevin Boyles remembered the loss all too well, as did Moppett and

“I just tell the girls not to take anything for granted,” Moppett said solemnly.
“You can’t look at the bracket and say ‘sweet, we have Montreal and then Laval.’
We don’t have a thing until we win Thursday.”

And win they did.

Powered by incredible performances by 2003 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Rookie
of the Year Janelle Findlay (16 kills, six digs, five blocks) and fourth-year
middle Sarah Onofrychuk (14 kills, eight blocks), the volleysaurs made short
work of the Carabins, but they learned a lesson in the process.

“Near the end of the third I thought we had it finished, so my head wasn’t in
the game,” admitted Onofrychuk after the match, an attitude many Dinos confessed
to having, including Boyles. “We’ve got to learn to take one ball at a time
and finish the game strong.”

A close call, a lesson learned

Dinos defeat Universite de Laval Rouge et Or

3-2 (21-25, 25-27, 25-15, 25-17, 15-7)

Fate came knocking Friday evening as the Dinos again stared defeat squarely
in the face. Opening the match by getting knocked on their asses by the serving
of 2003 CIS Player of the Year Maylène Laplante, the Dinos fell behind 6-0
in the first game and were down two games before they knew it.

It was gut check time.

“I honestly thought it was over when (Laval) snuck (the second game) out,” admitted
Boyles following the match. “But we’ve always had a lot of guts and the girls
put on a really gutsy performance.”

That gutsy performance was something his team never doubted it could pull off.

“I was thinking ‘how much do we have left?’” said Findlay of her mood following
the second game. “We realized what we needed to do, what was on the line, and
that we had no other option but to go out and play our asses off.”

Leading the charge over the last three games was one of the veterans, a tough
player who knew all too well what was at stake–team co-captain Amanda Moppett.

“There was a lot of swearing,” she smiled, when asked about what she said to
rally the troops. “We went out to the middle of the court, and I said ‘I’m going
to fire this up, so if you want to jump on my bandwagon, jump on it.’

“And we fired it up, there was just huge intensity. You could look into everyone’s
eyes and know we weren’t losing.”

Adding to the on-court intensity was the arrival of a quartet of players from
the Dinos men’s volleyball team early in the third, who got the few dozen Dinos
fans in attendance whipped into a frenzy.

“Them cheering at any of our games really gets us going,” said fourth-year middle
and tournament all-star Reid Brodie. “The more this gym feels like home, the
better we’ll play.”

The battle of Alberta

Dinos defeat University of Alberta Pandas

3-1 (25-18, 25-17, 19-25, 25-22)

Still soaring from a herculean effort against Laval the night before, the Dinos
stormed out of the gates against the Pandas, catching them off guard and unprepared.
The first two games were never in doubt, as the Dinos were clearly the better
club on the floor.

The third saw a desperate Pandas team come out with more focus, and a relaxed
Dinos squad ease up a little on the intensity. The 25-19 victory gave the Pandas
new life and set the stage for a remarkable fourth game.

With everything on the line, the two teams went back and forth, just like they
had five times already this season, with the Dinos going on a pivotal 6-2 run
late, pushing the score to a daunting 24-19.

After a spirited effort, the Pandas couldn’t handle the ball and, as it skipped
out the back end of their court, the Dinos bench cleared and the stands erupted
in elation. The Dinos were the 2004 CIS Women’s Volleyball National Champions.

The sweetest thing
“Does that record tears?” asked an elated Moppett pointing
at my tape recorder shortly after being named the tournament’s Most Valuable

“This is way better than I imagined it–and I imagined it pretty damn good,”
smiled a teary-eyed Friend. “I knew it was going to be four, I knew it would
get sketchy in the middle, but I knew.”

“I am just so proud of them,” said Boyles of his two fifth-year stars. “With
everything that Jill went through this year, it was so rewarding to see her
standing out there with tears in her eyes, whooping it up.

“And Amanda Moppett is the gutsiest player I’ve ever coached–men or women.
To have someone like that spend five years in my program and not win a national
title would really hurt, so I was thrilled.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so high, or screamed so loud in my life than
after that last point,” smiled 2004 CIS Player of the Year and tournament all-star
Joanna Niemczewska. “I am so proud of my teammates. I am so happy for Moppett
getting tournament MVP, it’s great recognition of everything she’s done for
this program.”

“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” beamed Schwartz in the post-game cele-bration.
“It wouldn’t have been satisfying beating anyone else.”

“Could we have written a better story?” asked Moppett. “I’d rather just have
this one than all the other years, it’s been such a process since day one in
this program for me. We’ve never, ever had this type of team, we have bonded
so much this year, more than any other.

“I owe everything to these girls.”


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