Looking to improve on their third place finish in 2015-16, the Mustangs women’s volleyball team open a new year with their sights set on first place in Ontario University Athletics and a chance to host the final four tournament this year.
The Mustangs participated in two tournaments in addition to the usual exhibition games this year to prepare for the new season. They came out with a winning record, successful against teams they’ll eventually face in the regular season.
“It proved that our team has a lot of depth," said Mustangs middle Kelsey Veltman about October's West Coast Classic tournament. "We were considered a pretty young team, but coming out with a 2-2 record and just learning and working together made this a really good preseason for us.”
“The preseason was pretty solid. It helped us get back to where we were last year at the end of the season,” added right side, Aja Gyimah.
The roster is similar to last year's, with one major exception. The Mustangs will have to fill the void left by Serena Smith’s departure after her graduation last year. In addition to being the captain for two years, she was one of the most consistent players on the team, recording over 162 points last season.
“A few seniors have stepped up and filled that role with their leadership and model displays of hard work on the team, especially Candice Scott, one of our starting middles,” said head coach Melissa Bartlett.
The team this year will be led by captains Kat Tsiofas and Scott. Other key players include Gyimah, who was named to the First OUA All-Star Team with Tsiofas in the 2015-16 season as well as Veltman, who, in addition to being a CIS First Team All-Star last year, was OUA Player of the Year in both of her seasons with the Mustangs.
They've also added five new names to the roster this year, and Veltman says they’re making a big difference in the team already.
“There’s a lot of new girls out there fighting for starting positions, so the competition within the team is really intense, which makes us all work harder together,” she said.
An advantage the Mustangs have over the other OUA teams is the depth of their roster.
“We’re working at getting everyone some OUA game experience," said Bartlett. "We’ve got a lot of talent, and right now it’s just trying to figure out our best lineup on the court. We’ve worked on a few different lineups during the preseason and it’ll keep the other teams guessing."
The Mustangs started the 2016-17 season undefeated, with victories against Ryerson, Guelph and Waterloo.
Bartlett attributes this success to her team’s aggressive performance.
“We’ve talked about being aggressive in those tight match situations," she said, "and in most of the games that have been very close we’ve come out on top, so if we can keep that streak going I see us being very successful this year.”
The Ryerson and Waterloo games were won in tight sets, Western typically winning by just two points. The Mustangs dominated Guelph, however, winning in straight sets.
With a 3-0 start, the Mustangs must now continue their strong play as the season kicks into gear.