By Sam Beaudoin
With a new season on the horizon, the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) women’s volleyball team look to put last season’s heartbreak in the rearview mirror and reestablish themselves as one of the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) most accomplished programs.
When their first serve flies on Oct. 27 against the Western Mustangs to open up the season, it will be the Bold’s first significant game since February—when they were eliminated from the OUA playoffs at the hands of the Waterloo Warriors.
It was a frustrating playoff exit for the Bold who posted a solid 2022-23 campaign, finishing with a 12-8 record, good for the fifth-best team in the OUA.
“The negative result really stuck with a lot of our returning players and there’s a high level of motivation coming into this year,” said Bold head coach Dustin Reid.
The team will be without five key contributors that helped TMU reach the postseason last spring, with Katelyn Grasman, Alicia Lam, Julie Moore, Bethany Smith and Jyoti Ruparell all having graduated after last season.
Despite the loss of key players on and off the court, the team still feels confident this roster can compete with the OUA’s best.
“We lost some really good players, really great leaders but people have been able to step up and fill those positions really well,” said third-year hitter Kylie Ferguson. “Our first-years have come in super competitive and ready to go…it’s been nice to see them adapt to the environment we’ve created.”
The four new faces on the roster this season are setter Megan Kesner, outside hitter Kaiya Krahn, outside hitter Darcie Buchanan and outside hitter Marta Cerovic.
They, among other key veteran players, are those Reid identified as players he is confident will take the next step in order to help fill the voids left by graduated members of the team.
In particular, Reid pointed to the two Calgary products in third-year—setter Sarah Zonneveld and outside hitter Scarlett Gingera—as players he sees stepping up as key leaders. Those two, alongside third-year libero Mary Rioflorido, are expected to be significant contributors this season.
Zonneveld and Gingera are each coming off tremendous sophomore campaigns that saw them record 357 assists and 168 kills respectively. This duo, along with Ferguson, fifth-year right side Mikayla Sherriffs and fourth-year middle Ashley Ditchfield appear to be the core crucial to TMU’s playoff ambitions.
The Bold will also welcome back an integral piece from the 2017-18 national championship-winning squad, fifth-year outside hitter Lauren Veltman.
The Brampton, Ont. product is a two-time OUA all-star and ranks fifth in program history with 598 kills. She rejoins her sister, fourth-year middle Britney Veltman, who she played alongside during the 2019-20 season.
“She’s a very big asset to our team,” said Sherriffs. “She’s a great outlet when we need some big kills.”
Returning after a couple of seasons away from the sport, Veltman is another player to watch on the Bold roster.
“I don’t see our roster as having one or two players that can be counted on to win the game by themselves—we have a deep and hungry team,” said Reid.
Reaching the playoffs and in particular, hosting a playoff game remain clear goals for the team. However, they’re aware the job will not be easy.
“You don’t get into the playoffs in the first semester. But, you can definitely miss playoffs [in the first semester] if you don’t win all your games or perform well,” said Sherriffs.
Embracing that mentality, the team came ready to perform at the start of training camp in August and carried that into the pre-season.
The Bold went 4-3 through their seven exhibition games, finishing strong in their final two matches with consecutive straight-set victories over the Moncton Aigles Bleues and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
“Since I came here, this is the first pre-season where I feel we’ve had a good and long pre-season. We’ve seen so much improvement in every game we’ve played,” said Ferguson. “We continue to see ourselves taking what we learnt in practice and seeing it grow game-to-game.”
Looking ahead at the remainder of the Bold’s season schedule, Reid mentioned the configuration is a bit strange as the club will not see its traditional rivals in the Queen’s Gaels, the York Lions and the Varsity Blues during the regular season.
However, there will be no shortage of rivalry on the court at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, with the Windsor Lancers coming to town on Nov. 4 and 5.
The two programs clashed last season with the Bold dropping both games, leaving a bitter taste in their mouths.
“I’m excited to play them this year…last year I would say really sparked the rivalry between the two of us,” said Sherriffs. “[There was] a lot of chirping that went on between the two teams, it was a very heated couple of matches.”
The Bold’s on-court tactics will play a pivotal role in helping the team achieve their goals. But the team’s strong chemistry remains arguably their biggest strength heading into the season.
When asked to describe their team in one word, members of the team provided a variety of responses ranging from “gritty” and “eager” to “rejuvenated.”
“We’re hungry coming into the season,” said Reid.
Many storylines surround this Bold team as they strive to win their first banner since the 2017-18 season—when they won the national championship—and return to volleyball royalty.
“We know which teams have a lot of talent, but in our sport how a team plays together…is probably as important as talent,” said Reid.