By Devin Jones
As one of the most dominant teams in Ontario the past few seasons, the heartbreaking loss in the first round of the playoffs last season left the Ryerson Rams women’s volleyball reeling.
“It was a tough loss, we played what I feel was a really strong game of ours but in the end it didn’t mean anything,” said head coach Dustin Reid. “To a really good top six CIS team, what we came away with is that we have a really good group of core players we who really care and want to perform for this school, but we have to improve.”
On paper, coming into this season the Rams have one of the top teams in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) due to 12 out of 18 players having played on the team last year. The playoff experience from last year adds extra depth to a lineup that saw a team go 13-3 last season, placing them third in the eastern conference.
Up front the Rams will look outside to Emily Nicholishen and Veronica Livingston for offensive production — the latter of whom had 3.80 kills per game and 247 throughout the season. Also adding to the Rams offensive this season is returning OUA east rookie of the year Theannea Vernon, who will carry most of the playing time up the middle. Last season Vernon had 95 kills and 192 points in 42 games.
“She’s obviously a great source of excitement because she gets big points, she works really hard to be as good as she is and she’s very focused to put in the work necessary to get where she needs to be as a player,” said Livingston. “As a leader she keeps everything in line and is supportive of everyone involved. She gives everything for volleyball.”
Despite the Rams having kicked off their season on Friday night with a 3-0 sweep of the Brock Badgers, they have a tough early schedule. Facing three east division playoff teams from last year, Reid says the team hasn’t done anything specific to get ready, just playing “their game” should be enough to get the early road wins, before returning home to play the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Nov. 14.
Defensively the Rams have a strong back line anchored by third-year libero Julie Longman. As a former libero of the year, Longman is one of the stronger defensive players in the OUA and will be looking to take a larger leadership role this season. A slew of first year players will round out the backcourt for the Rams, and they are expected to see more playing time.
“[I’m] definitely trying to take more of a confident leadership role in the back row, but also staying disciplined towards what I need to do in my position. Also contributing more on offense, so calling out holes on the opposing team’s side and their overall coverage,” Longman said. “In terms of new players, I’ve started working with the defensive positions and just explaining how to prep throughout the season. It’s not just the day before, or working hard a couple days before a game, it’s consistency throughout the entire season that’s going to make you feel confident.”
The Rams have also had to adjust to Reid taking on the majority of the coaching duties for the men’s team this season, as former head coach Mirek Porosa has stepped down due to “personal reasons.” Despite the shift in coaching structure, Longman and other players say the new change has barely been noticed, with Reid’s split focus not taking away from the women’s team’s ambition.
“We just have to hold each other more accountable now, and we don’t have Dustin to look to for that push as much as before. We need to call things out,” Longman said.