By Soeun Outh
There was a time for the women’s volleyball team when having a few second-year players would make them a relatively experienced squad.
Faced with losing season after losing season, it was hard for head coach Arif Nathoo to convince players to stay with the team. So each year there as an almost completely new roster, and by the time any team cohesion was made the season was over.
But things have changed. With a core of second- and third-year players, the team clinched its first playoff berth in more than 25 years last year when it went 5-5 to place fourth in the OUA East Division. With most of those players back this year, the Rams not only improved to third place, with a 8-9 record, they also bonded into a tightly knit group.
On the court, they know exactly where each player is going to be. Off the court, they hang out together.
The team chemistry will be tested on Thursday night, when the Rams face the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in an East Division semifinal game at U of T at 7 p.m.
On Feb. 10, the women defeated the University of Ottawa GeeGees in three straight matches (25-15, 25-20 and 25-21). The GeeGees and the Rams had identical records before the game, but by beating the GeeGees the Rams cinched third spot and avoided playing the first place and 16-1 York Yeowomen.
While the traditionally strong Blues, at 14-3, may seem like the heavy favourite in the semifinal, the Rams insist their exceptional team chemistry makes them capable of pulling off an upset.
“Teams that [like each other] are willing to go that extra mile for each other,” says assistant coach Bob Cholette.
The strong team bond is especially noticeable on the road. When staying in hotel rooms, they often play a game of volleyball with a team on each bed.
The laughter keeps up throughout the week. During after-school practices the girls constantly joke and talk with one another.
“In my first year, I came out more for the program,” says Carly Price, a power player in her fourth year. “Now I like coming to practice.”
The team’s training schedule isn’t as strict as other universities’ squads. As a result, players don’t criticize each other when they play poorly. They stay positive and make sure they’re having fun. The attitude and positive atmosphere has helped them improve their skills.
“They are more skilled than any team I’ve ever coached,” Cholette says. “But they like to have more fun than anything.”