The Dinos women's volleyball team faces it's toughest test this upcoming weekend: a two game home series against the top-ranked team in the nation, the University of Manitoba Bisons.
The ladies have played the last few weeks on the road in back-to-back series against the Brandon University Bobcats and the University of Winnipeg Wesmen. In four matches, the Dinos lost the only two games they've lost this season against the Bobcats, and swept three of the matches 3-0. The Dinos are first in Canada West with a 6-0 record.
The Bisons are unbeaten as well, but have only played three matches, winning them by a combined 9-2.
"From their point of view, they certainly won't be beat up, they're rested," noted Dinos head coach Kevin Boyles. "From our point of view, we feel like the last few weeks have been good to prepare us for this weekend. I don't see any advantage there for either team."
In the pre-season, the Dinos played the Bisons four times, going 1-3. The Dinos swept them once, lost two matches 3-2, and lost one match on home court 3-1 at the Dino Cup.
"We're not concerned about that at all," said Boyles. "Pre-season is pre-season and we play different than we do the regular season. At that point of the year, you're evaluating players, you're trying different line-ups. It's kind of irrelevant."
The Dinos have yet to be really challenged this season. The teams the Dinos have played have a combined record of 3-15 and all three sit at the bottom of the conference. Over the next two weekends, the Dinos play the unbeaten Bisons and the University of Alberta Pandas, who hold a similar record to the Dinos at 6-0.
"We've been preparing all fall for this weekend and for next weekend against U of A," said Boyles. "We knew that those two, on the schedule, would be really big weekends. [Against the Bisons,] it's just a matter of who's further along in their year, motivated to play this weekend and fight for the number one spot in the country."
The games against the Bisons will certainly be a test. Despite being a young team--the Bisons have six first-year players on their roster--they show veteran savvy, and are consistent and hard to rattle.
"It's a very solid team, that's the problem," said Boyles. "They play really consistent volleyball. We've been up on them 2-0, and they storm back to beat us 3-2. The key for us is to elevate our level of play and keep it there for a full match, not suffer the ups and downs. We are a more emotional team than they are. They don't care if they're ahead, behind or whatever, they keep playing the same ball."
Whatever the result of this weekend, it'll be key in determining the final playoff seeding. The Pandas, the Bisons and the Dinos are all contending for the top spot and the right to host the Canada West final-four tournament. These next two weekends are the only opportunities for the Dinos to play both the Pandas and the Bisons.
"It's too early to start talking playoffs," said Boyles. "Certainly I think they will be there at the end of the year, and hopefully we are too. Being that we're hosting nationals, we'd really like to host the final four. If either team sweeps this weekend, it goes a long way towards establishing that for either one of us. There's a lot on the line this weekend."