The Varsity Blues’ men’s and women’s volleyball teams are both set for exciting seasons, after wrapping up their preseason and preparing to host their season openers this coming weekend.
The men’s team starts the year with a tough game against the Western Mustangs, who ended last season ranked first in the OUA.
“[Western will] be very strong but it’s exciting to play a team like them early on in the season, to see where you match up,” said third-year libero and captain Michael Denton. “It’s really early on in the season as well for them, and it’s a home opener, so hopefully we can get a lot of people to come out and just feed off that energy.”
The U of T men’s volleyball team has a track record of success. The Blues have won eight of the past 18 OUA championships, and a total of 16 OUA banners since 1966. This year’s squad is looking to capture that 17th banner.
The roster hasn’t seen much change in the past two years Denton says. “We only lost one or two guys and we only gained one, so our team is still very tight.”
With an extra year of experience under the collective belt of the roster, it isn’t surprising that the team has higher expectations for their performance, not only in their first match, but for the rest of the season.
Third-year left-sided hitter Jake Dysselhof is sure that the team has become more of a unit. “We have become more mature as a team and individually.”
John Barrett, who served as assistant coach and interim head coach last season, enters this year as the official head coach of the team.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with such a great group of student-athletes and help U of T rebuild the men’s volleyball program to the prominence it once had,” Barrett told the Varsity Blues.
Barrett joined the team in 2006 as an assistant coach laden with credentials: he is a former CIS all-Canadian and CIS national champion.
“John has been amazing. He’s a team oriented guy, he brings a lot of experience, and he’s just been great at getting us all to play together as a unit on the court, to forget about little errors and be able to move on point by point. He’s definitely been very positive in our team’s development this year,” said third-year left side hitter Jake Dysselhof.
“Our coach keeps telling us that we have to focus on our side and adapt to what Western does.”
With a promising season ahead, expectations for the team are high. “Our team just needs to become a little more confident on the court,” Denton said, before noting that even with the team’s disappointing season last year — the team ended with a 6–13 record — each player dedicated themselves to working hard in the off season. “The players did what they needed to do to be ready for this season and be ready to play. We should be an exciting team to watch this year.”
The men’s volleyball team is not the only squad preparing for a thrilling season and, hopefully, an improvement on last year’s standing. The women’s volleyball team enter the season riding the coattails of an early success, as they claimed first place in the Lea Mark Volleyball Challenge in Winnipeg with a record 5–0 win.
“Having a good preseason feels good,” said Katrina Rossall, a fifth-year libero.“One thing I really like about this team is that we have that finish. We’re not necessarily ahead but at the end of the game, we really push and fight hard.”
“We definitely think we can win the OUA championship this year, and I think we can do well in the nationals,” continued Rossall. “We can compete with some of the best teams in Canada and that’s really exciting.”
The team ended last year with an impressive 11–7 regular season record to advance to the OUA playoffs. The women progressed to the semi-final, where they fell to the Queen’s Gaels after forcing a fifth-and-deciding set. The Blues later won the OUA bronze after defeating the RMC Paladins.
This year’s team has seen minimal change from the one that had such success last season, with no graduating athletes and only a few new faces.
“We have a really tight community on our team,” said Rossall.
Fifth-year middle (and Katrina’s twin) Shannon Rossall agrees, “It’s not just our team that is successful. We’re successful because of everything we’re surrounded with. The programs here at the University of Toronto, the staff that work in the athletic department, our coaches, friends, family, teammates, all those people are part of our successes. It’s not just the six girls who are on the floor and win the game.
“It’s everybody in this community who wants to see this program succeed.”
The Blues women’s and men’s volleyball teams are both approaching their opening night with the hope that they can translate the off-season’s successes into regular-season and OUA-playoff victories.