The women’s volleyball team practising in the RAC. PHOTO: MOHAMED OMAR

Back on track

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A year removed from an injury stricken season, Dustin Reid looks to get the women’s volleyball program back on track. Chris Babic reports

Having compiled a dismal 1-18 record last season, it’s safe to say that last season did not go according to plan for head coach Dustin Reid and Ryerson’s women’s volleyball team, as injuries derailed what should have been an important transitional year.

Reid, who was the reigning Ontario University Athletics (OUA) coach of the year had made great strides forward since he took over as the teams’ first full-time head coach in 2008, and had a mostly young core to groom for the future.

However, the plethora of injuries that were suffered forced a lot of the rookies to step into starting roles, in adition to having some of them play out of position, which in-turn stunted their individual progression.

“Had we been fully healthy, it would have been a transitional year for us,” said Reid. “There wasn’t a lot of confidence because of all the injuries.”

If the preseason is any indication, the upcoming season looks quite promising for the 2011-12 Rams, but Reid is making sure that expectations stay measured and that people do not lose sight of the stage the team is in.

“We’re in a building process, and have to honestly accept that it’s going to take time,” said Reid. “I wouldn’t trade our long-term success for a few wins this year.”

This offseason, Reid and his coaching staff made it their mission to focus on recruiting depth, so as to avoid another injury rattled season. The result; one of Ryerson’s best recruiting classes in years.

At the head of this talented recruiting class are a pair of Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association (OFSAA) gold medal winning outside hitters from Sinclair H.S., Emily Nicholishen and Alexandra Whyte. In somewhat of a recruiting coup, Reid also managed to convince Chelsea Jensen to join the program after transferring from Mercyhurst College in the NCAA, where for the past two seasons she has led the her team in kills per game.

Reid said that he certainly looked to recruit players “who have been in a competitive environment and are strong character athletes,” because they bring a winning mentality to the squad that is vital in trying to erase the memories of last season.

Another promising recruit is Chelsea Briscoe, who enters Ryerson having won the provincial and national championships with Defensa club, and an OFSAA silver medal.

“My championship in high school has nothing to do with my role on the team,” she said. “The work I put into receiving that championship I’ve carried over into this year but I didn’t expect to do anything less.”

With over half the team consisting of either rookie or sophomore players, team captain Carli Yim, along with fellow senior players Haley Wolfenden and Kasandra Bracken, will be asked to shoulder much of the leadership role on this young squad.

Wolfenden, a fourth year setter, is happy with the new additions and is ready to put last season’s woes behind her.

“I expect a full turnaround from last season – with the young energy brought in by Nicholishen, Emily Varga, and Jensen, and some experienced knowledge of the game from myself, Yim and Bracken —w this team makes a well rounded, passionate and very talented group,” she said.

Bracken is the most senior player on the squad, and the fifth year middle blocker is pleased with the early returns from a gruelling six weeks of training, which Reid believes is more than other OUA teams worked out during the offseason.

“Honestly our team has already surprised me so much in exhibition play that I have a feeling I don’t even know what we’re capable of achieving. I expect lots of surprises—the good kind of surprises.”

In the 2010-11 season, the Rams finished 36th in the league in scoring with 614.5 points, and with nine of the teams 17 players being first years, it is still unclear where the scoring punch will come from. WIth that being said, Reid has focused most of his efforts to date on instilling a defensive mentality into his team’s identity.

True to his word, the Rams have played with a stingy defence throughout what has been a surprisingly solid preseason, with the team playing well in the McMaster exhibition tournament.

Beyond the top three or four teams, there are 10 who can challenge for the final five playoff spots, and Reid’s focus in the offseason on athleticism and speed over height should help get the team into that group of 10 challengers.

“We’re not the tallest team, we’re a quick team, we’re not a team that will beat ourselves with errors, we are a strong defending team,” he said.

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