In the 2013-14 season, Mount Allison’s varsity volleyball team missed the playoffs with an underwhelming record of nine wins and 12 losses. In response to that disappointing season, coach Paul Settle looked to revamp the program by overhauling his roster.
The changes resulted in some initial division on the team, which hampered early results. “Last year we had 10 rookies and five returning girls, so it was kind of like we were trying to work our way into their group,” said fourth-year setter Madison Archibald. “By the end of the year we had definitely come together as a team, and I think that’s part of the success at playoffs.”
Last year, the volleyball Mounties finished the season with a respectable 12 wins and nine losses and won their quarterfinal matchup against University of New Brunswick Saint John, before losing to Mount Saint Vincent University in the semifinal.
Settle, who is now in his fourth year of coaching, described last season as a positive year, but was blunt about his expectations for this year.
“This year we have a goal of [finishing with] 15 [wins and] six [losses],” Settle said. “We are gunning for a top-two finish.”
This past off-season, Settle raised the training expectations for the team in order to achieve this goal and build the program.
“We’ve instituted a strength training program, and the ones that have worked at it are still here today,” Settle said.
One result of these new expectations is that the volleyball Mounties have a smaller roster than in past years. Of the 10 rookies from last year, four have returned to the team this season. The team is going into this season with a 10-player roster.
“Last year we had 15 girls on the team, [but] a lot of people didn’t get to see the floor. You can’t work 15 girls onto the floor,” Archibald said.
This year, all of the players will be expected to contribute.
“Literally any of these girls could be in the starting lineup. It depends on who we are playing. Everybody has their own role on the team,” Archibald said.
Second-year setter and 2015-16 Mounties rookie of the year, Lauren Wentzell, referenced competition in practice as a key to the team’s success. “We were all rookies, so we were all fighting for those spots and we all knew that,” she said.
That competitive spirit fostered in practice has been carried on by those rookies, who now return as veteran players. “This is the more dedicated group, I think, the ones who really wanted it and wanted to work for it,” Wentzell said.
There are still some questions heading into the 2016-17 season. With the graduation of star middle Sydney Umlah, players unfamiliar with that position are stepping up to fill the role.
This transition is made even more difficult by the critical importance of the middle position in any team’s defence. “Moving girls into those positions, I don’t think [the middle position] is going to be ready for the beginning of the season exactly,” Archibald said.
As this group of players continues to develop and grow, Settle sees success in the team’s future – if not this year, then next.
“I would hope that we would be taking a trip to nationals [next] year. If we play well this year, we do have some very good athletes and I think we could pull off an upset,” Settle said.
The coach’s confidence in the team comes from his belief in his players.
“This group of girls is a fantastic group of girls. They pay attention, they’re wanting to get better,” he said.
When asked about the team’s goal of competing for a top-two spot, Wentzell said, “Attainable, yes – will we do it? I don’t know. I will definitely work for it, and so will everyone else.”