After dropping two disappointing matches to the top-ranked University of Manitoba Bisons in their last two home games of the calendar year, the Dinos women volleyballers bounced back to take two close matches against the University of Alberta Pandas. Going into their Dec. 2-3 series, the Dinos were ranked first in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, and the Pandas third.
"Once we went five with U of A, it was really important that we come away with a victory," said Dinos head coach Kevin Boyles. "You start to fear those situations if you don't win a few of them. Having said that, it's always tough against a team like U of A in their own gym."
The Dinos got a big weekend from fifth-year superstar Joanna Niemczewska, who was named Canada West player of the week for her 42 kills and 24 digs. The Dinos beat the Pandas 3-2 Sat., Dec. 2 and Niemczewska recorded 25 kills.
"Obviously if [Niemczewska] plays well, it makes it easier for everybody else on the court because the other team has to pay so much attention to her that it creates opportunities for everyone," said Boyles.
Holly Harper also stepped up big against the bamboo-eaters, picking up 12 kills Saturday and 23 Sunday, when the Dinos beat the Pandas again by a 3-2 score.
"Only a couple weeks back into it from her knee injury, Harper's been outstanding," said Boyles. "It was huge. We get a couple people firing like that, our court balance looks really good. The unfortunate side is she plays the same position as [Niemczewska]. One of them is going to move for them both to be on the floor. [Niemczewska] is more able to adapt, she's able to pass and play defence [on the left], which allows us to play her on the left side."
Harper's performance came at a good time, as the Dinos were short-handed after Lauren Perry had to leave the match. Perry fell ill, but second-year Raynell Lavertu stepped in and picked up the slack.
"Ray came in and did a great job," said Boyles. "It's a nice thing, we talk a lot about our depth all the time. You look at other teams in the league and you pull one of their best players out of the lineup and they're down. We're able to stick someone else in there."
Now the Dinos sit at 8-2. Though not the perfect rating they had hoped for, it's good enough for a tie for first in Canada West. The Trinity Western University Spartans are 8-0, and the Pandas are 8-2. The Bisons are only 7-0, but they hold a tie-breaker over the Dinos should they finish with the same record.
"That's probably the biggest disappointment and just the fact that we had, certainly, at least one of those matches [against the Bisons] won from our point of view," said Boyles. "We can be okay 8-2, it puts us in a good position to take advantage of any slip ups that Manitoba has. If they go clean, then good on them, we go to Manitoba to play the final four. The important thing is to make sure we're at the final four. It's critical to make sure we have momentum going into nationals."