A new season of Badgers volleyball is upon us as both the women’s and men’s teams will kick off their regular seasons on Friday night when they take on the Windsor Lancers at Bob Davis Gym.
The women’s team has a lot to look forward to as the team made the playoffs last season for the first time in four years with a record of 13-6. Their record has gradually improved each season since finishing 2-17 during the 2015-2016 season and coach Steve Delaney believes that trend will continue.
“We do expect to continue an upward trend, although we do have a very hard travel schedule. We only have eight home games this year and 11 games on the road, that’s because of Lakehead, we have to go there and play a double header,” said the second-year coach. “Yes, we do expect to have a successful season, as we always do, but it will be a little bit harder because of our travel schedule.”
Delaney also views strong serving as one of the keys to victory.
“Last year one of the big things we changed when I got in there was our serving strategy, we wanted to serve more balls in, we wanted to serve at 90 percent, meaning that we’re only missing 10 percent of our serves.”
Delaney was correct, as his team only lost once when serving 90 per cent or higher.
“We want to continue to do that this year, now in preseason we haven’t been serving at 90 percent, so that’s something we have to focus on with our new athletes that have come in so we want to continue to serve tough, strategically too, what we believe to be [the opponents] difficult areas to serve receive and that the players that we want to serve receive the ball on the other team, so we’re really going to dial in on that.”
When it comes to deciding who’s on the court and where to hit, many factors come into account for Delaney, like many modern coaches, he sees stats and analytics as a very valuable tool.
“I’m just in the process of signing up for Volleymetrics, which is a new software that comes into the OUA this year. Some teams out west have been doing it already, which is going to give us a ton more data, in terms of what it is that the other teams like to run with certain rotations, hitter tendencies, serving tendencies. We’re definitely going to use more data to make decisions in terms of how we set up our block and defensive sets against the other team and we can train them in practice, so it’ll be huge.”
Delaney sees value in numbers as it helps justify his decisions.
“The eye test isn’t always reliable. It’s also good to have that data to back it up with your players, when you go over to the numbers they can see ‘oh it’s not just the coach doesn’t like me’ or it’s not that ‘the coach just has favourites’, it’s usually backed up pretty often by statistical data.”
As for the “new athletes that have come in”, the Badgers have five new recruits. Aleiah Torres and Gigi Markotic come over from the Halton Hurricanes, Sam Casey joins from Leaside Volleyball and walk-ons Meera Sayal and Natalie Little make their way on the team from Storm Volleyball Club and Chatham Ballhawks VBC, respectively.
Torres was the OVA 18U libero of the year last season and was previously coached for a year by Delaney with the Hurricanes.
“We view her as one of the best defensive players in the country, even at her young age. Aleiah comes in as a highly touted recruit, there were other schools after her, but we were able to land her so we’re pretty happy” said Delaney.
Markotic played with Torres in Halton as right side/middle, but will now see time as a left side to accommodate for the team’s needs. Delaney has high hopes for the six-footer.
“She is an athletic talent, as she gets stronger and hits the weights I think she is going to become even more physical, her strength is in attack and block and so as we get further in our season and she gets further in her career and there’s more weights and conditioning, I think the sky’s the limit for that athlete, she’s really impressed us in preseason.”
Casey was the first recruit signed of the group. She was an all-star at the 18U club nationals last year, where her team took home the gold. Delaney had high praise for Casey.
“Sam is a solid player, ball control kind of crafty player, and for her to be getting stronger and getting on a weight program will be great, we’re happy to have Sam, she’s going to help us out on a bunch of situations this year where it calls for a little bit more finesse and ball control. She’s not the most physical athlete, but she really gets the job done when she does get set because she’s a very smart attacker.”
“We like what we see from our walk ons,” said Delaney. “People who just came to try out for the team and ended up making it, that’s unusual at the U Sports level when it comes to varsity sports.”
He sees Sayal as “someone who is still learning the game” but has been impressed by her play in the preseason.
“She’s probably right now, on the depth chart, our third middle because of our injuries, so she’s going to get some playing time that she probably wasn’t expecting, so that’s good for her.”
As for Little, she is an undersized middle who Delaney hopes to be able to deploy as right/left side hitter.
“She’s gotta learn those positions for us, so that we can start to use her effectively on the court.”