Volleyball is a game of exclamation marks, at least the way the Douglas College Royals play it.
The women’s volleyball team packs a lot of power on the court, and whether it’s the sound of palm hitting ball or the boisterous vocal cues before and after a successful point, the Royals get their message across.
Ranked second in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s latest poll, Douglas is building its case for a spot at the national championship table come March.
The New West-based squad sits tied for first in the PacWest league, at 13-3 alongside Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University, with eight games remaining before playoffs. Every match remains a battle, co-captain Abby Mitro said.
“The first half of the season is like figuring everything out and getting to know each other and how we kind of mix together on the court,” remarked the setter from Surrey. “The second half is kind of the grind, you know. Almost every game’s a grind, every team you’ve played, so they know you and know what you do and your tendencies, so it’s a bit more challenging in that way.”
Unsurprisingly, the second half started with a hiccup when the Royals suffered their third loss, 3-1 to the University of the Fraser Valley. It was a productive eye-opener that the team used the next day, head coach Jeff Ross said.
“(The loss) was our very first match coming out of the Christmas break, so it was pretty sloppy, but the girls responded and rebounded really well for the Saturday (in a 3-0 win),” noted Ross.
Last week, they swept Camosun College in a pair of matches in New West, with a few tense moments. Douglas emerged with the win, getting 23 digs from co-captain Claudia Corneil and 26 kills from first-year Caet McCorkell.
With a fairly young lineup – seven of the 16 players are in their first-year of post-secondary studies, and seven others are sophomores – the Royals have exuberance and a trajectory that puts them on course to reach their goals.
And when they do hit a speed bump, as they did two weeks ago, it’s quickly in the rear view mirror.
“For us, we’re just looking and prepping for provincials, (and) on the road to getting there,” said Ross, in his second season as coach of the Royals.
A year ago, with a few more veterans aboard, including provincial all-star Juliana Penner, the club marched right to the B.C. final before Vancouver Island took them out in three close sets.
While the roster lost Penner to graduation and starters Georgia Hurry (Saskatchewan) and Autumn Davidson (Calgary) to university transfers, Ross brought in a talented group from the corners of the province – including two from Kelowna, two from the Island and one from Prince George.
Ross said his focus on recruiting – having helmed the provincial team for a number of years – has less to do with geography as it does with ability and chemistry.
“For me, recruiting is going to be a lot about character and things like, how is their academics, are they working hard on the court and working hard off the court -- just looking at a lot of different variables to bring in a person to the program who will be a good fit,” he noted.
Outside hitter Caet McCorkell, of Kamloops’ Sa-Hali Secondary, was one of the past summer’s big additions. Her role has grown as the season evolves, but she’s shown to be a quick study and a diligent presence on the court,” Ross said.
“I coached Caet at Team B.C. a couple of years ago. She came into Douglas and adjusted really well. She’s a pretty high-level athlete and she didn’t have any problem adjusting to the speed and the power of the game.
“She works extremely hard and holds herself to a high standard as well.”
While the players Ross has recruited over the past two season have come from elite club programs with provincial experience, each has taken the challenge of stepping up to the college game, following the lead of such key returnees as second-year Vania Oliveira, who hails from Brazil.
The focus of the first half of the season was to develop team chemistry, growing as a unit while not letting the competitive side slide. A tough ask when newcomers are also making the transition to post-secondary studies.
But Mitro, a second-year setter from Surrey, said everything has worked out smashingly.
“Our first-years have done an amazing job this year, especially Kendra (Potskin, from Prince George) in the middle and Caet on the outside,” remarked Mitro. “They’ve totally stepped into their roles and embraced our culture, which is really nice. Even the girls who aren’t seeing as much playing time, they are right there behind them, biting at their heels, and it’s really nice to see everyone stepping up to the plate and making a big difference.”
Corneil, team libero and co-captain, is second in the league in digs with 3.89 per set, while Potskin leads the team, one spot ahead of fellow freshman Olivia Cesaretti, in blocks. McCorkell owns the third-best numbers in PacWest top offensive numbers, while Oliviera sits sixth overall.
Although they split their first series with Vancouver Island, Mitro noted that first game in late November, where the Royals broke a 1-1 game and proceeded to prevail 3-1, was a great moment for the squad.
“That was a great win, a good team win and it felt good to beat them.”
Ross said as a unit the players continue to find ways to contribute and work hard. The results have been good, but the goal is being their best at provincials, and hopefully earning that spot to Grande Prairie for the nationals in March.
“We’re at that time where playoffs are just around the corner so everybody is getting focused and dialed in to where we want to be at the end of the season,” said Ross.
The Royals head out on the road for the next three weekends, including a rematch Feb. 9 and 10 in Nanaimo against VIU.