The Mustangs women’s volleyball team has gotten off to a strong start, going 5-0 to start their season. Their hot start was enough to see the Mustangs crack the USport top 10 this week, sneaking into the 10th spot and beating out Laval by one point.
“We kind of looked at each other and we said, 'oh my god guys, we did it,' ” said third-year player Katie McKenna. “Everyone was so happy but we almost couldn’t believe it at first, but we're all really excited and it's giving us a lot of motivation.”
Despite a strong third place finish in the last two seasons and an Ontario championship banner in 2010-11, the team has not been ranked in the national top 10 in over six years. The team has been consistently ranked in the 11th seed, getting snubbed for a coveted spot on the top 10 list for most of last season and the first few weeks of this season.
“We joked around all last year that we were members of the 'CIS Top 11' and then this year we held steady at 11th for a week or two,” said Mustangs head coach Melissa Bartlett in an email. “To finally be recognized as a top 10 team means a lot to our players and coaching staff.”
The team’s recent success is the result of the hard work that the team has been putting in over the last few years. The team only lost two players this year and so have the same core group of girls that have been steadily improving over the last three years.
“Our whole 20-person roster is the reason why we’re a top 10 team, we are probably one of the deepest teams in the OUA,” said McKenna. “Our maturity is key as well, we're more composed in crucial moments, we execute better when we need to.”
The team is hoping to maintain their current success throughout the entirety of the season. They’re hoping to extend their winning streak past this weekend, with a double header against Lakehead looming.
“We continue to push in practice knowing that our competition gets stronger and stronger the further down the season,” said Bartlett. “We continue to use multiple line ups so that we have a depth of players who have match experience and confidence on the court. “
The team won’t be letting their new ranking go to their heads – they’ll continue preparing and practicing by focusing on one team at a time.
“Our motto this year is enter every match with confidence while at the same time giving each team respect,” said Bartlett. “I think if anything, being a ranked team means our team will step onto the court each time with the pride that they are representing Western volleyball.”
With back-to-back OUA bronze medals, the team is striving for excellence this season. The team will not be satisfied with anything other than a top two finish in the OUA and an appearance at the USport championship in Toronto. With three teams from the OUA gaining a berth at the championships, the Mustangs have to medal again this year at the OUA championships.
“We have the confidence knowing that we return all but one starter from last years team,” said Bartlett. “While at the same time having the drive and determination to improve upon our previous finish.”
This may be the year it all comes together for the Mustangs. The team hasn’t won the provincial title in six years and they haven’t won a national banner since 1976. For the team, it’s not just about winning titles, but about establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the OUA.
“We kind of want to set a standard for Western Volleyball, we want to raise the bar of where Western is in the OUA,” said McKenna. “Some of the teams have a lot of prestige and credentials that Western volleyball hasn't had in the last few years, so we would just love to be trailblazers for the program.”
McMaster and Toronto, the defending national champions, will be some of the toughest competition that the Mustangs will face off against this season. The Mustangs will have to face off twice against McMaster before the winter break, with the first test coming next weekend on Nov. 26 at Alumni Hall. They’ll face the defending national champions in February, in the third-last game of the season.