December 2nd, 2012
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Any minute now, Vancouver Island University Mariners women's volleyball head coach Shane Hyde will get the most important phone call of his life - it will be his wife telling him it is time to go to the hospital for the birth of his second child.
When this happens, it will be the height of the team's Christmas break.
For the first time in a long time, the team is doing absolutely nothing in between semesters.
Normally they have a far-flung trip planned to fine-tune their game. Last year they went to San Diego. Not this time. Outside of a three-day training camp at the University of British Columbia from Dec. 29-31, team members will be left to their own devices.
But it has been a well-earned respite.
The defending Canadian Colleges Athletic Association champions have had a couple of bumps in the road but sit in second place in the Pacific Western Athletic Association at 10-2 (31-6), just one game back of the University of Fraser Valley Cascades (11-1; 33-12).
Hyde has seen some of his younger players develop into solid contributors off the bench while they have shown their depth at all positions.
They have a lot to live up to after last season's title, but they are starting to round into form. "Interesting enough, we're not sitting too far off of where we were last year at this time," said Hyde. "I keep reminding the girls it's a long season, there's a lot of improvement I want to see happen."
The season may only be half over, but it has been a long grind to get to this point. It all started with training camp in September, then the exhibition season and, finally, 12 regular season games. Ad in studies - these, after all, are student athletes - and a chance to recharge over Christmas will be critical to another long playoff run.
No team in the CCAA has played as many games as VIU over the last couple of years, going to the gold medal game in each of the last two seasons. Also, since the 2011-12 season, the PacWest plays the largest schedule in the CCAA with 24 matches, it becomes a marathon. Hyde says it is essential to allow team members to reconnect with family and friends and recharge their batteries for the stretch run.
"At the beginning of the year you've got all these goals to achieve, but in the second half of the year it's right there," said Hyde. "It's that last push where I think our team normally does a really good job of taking our game to the next level in the second half."
But Hyde has been pleased with what he has seen from his team so far, despite two hiccups along the way - a 3-0 (25-17, 33-31, 25-20) loss to Columbia Bible College on Oct. 20 and a 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-14, 25-17) loss to UFV on Nov. 17.
The head coach has two concerns that he wants addressed for the second half, their blocking and their execution and creativity on offence.
The pieces are there for another long playoff run. They have arguably the two best powers in Canada in Leanna Gildersleeve and Alyssa Wolf, three middles that can all play at the highest level, all-Canadian setter Dani Smith has continued to improve, while Sandra Veikle has grabbed hold of the libero position. Their ace in the hole, however, may be the emergence of two rookies, libero Megan Rosenlund and power Megan Groenedijk, coming off the bench. Rosenlund's role will on increase in the second half of the season.
"We really focus in the second half to almost like have a closer in baseball, once the game gets to 18 or 20 points, we like to have that person who comes in every set, gets us a few serves, makes those timely digs and gets us pushing past that lull in the set," said Hyde. "She's shown us she's ready to do that and I do believe those roles get more important as we get closer to provincials and nationals."
Before the Mariners return to their second semester on Jan. 13, they will be in Vancouver, working out with two of the top Canadian Interuniversity Sport programs in the country, the five-time defending champion UBC Thunderbirds and the University of Calgary Dinos.
"That's the cream of the crop in my mind, any time you have the opportunity to train with the five-time CIS champs, you take that," said Hyde.