This summer, Dalhousie volleyball player Courtney Baker proved that she is not only one of the best women’s volleyball players in Atlantic University Sport (AUS), but one of the best in the country.
An AUS first team all-star last season, Baker competed against 60 players from the NCAA, U SPORTS and professional players to make the Canadian senior national team this year. She made the team the previous summer as a member of the practice squad, but this year, she made it on to the main team and saw her playing time improve as the summer went on.
“I was really hopeful after the tryout but I was really surprised,” said Baker. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect because there was a new coach this year.”
In July, Baker played her first international competition at the Grand Prix in Argentina, Puerto Rico and Canada. Baker was the second youngest athlete and was one of six U SPORTS players on the 21-player-roster. Therefore, she didn’t see a lot of game action during the tournament.
Baker said the Grand Prix had some ups and downs for her.
“Our new coach (Marcello Abbondanza) was pretty intense,” said Baker. “If there were games that we lost and didn’t do well, we would have to stay up until 2a.m watching film, four hours of watching our own game and then scouting our next game for our next day.”
Baker still had fun. She said she was nervous playing in her first game in Argentina because it was a new environment for her.
“In our first games in Argentina the stands were completely packed and I have never seen so many fans and that much of a crazy energy in a stadium,” said Baker. “It was definitely nerve wracking, but it was also super energy giving and made it super exciting.”
In August, she traveled with a different Canadian team to the 29th International University Federation Universaide in Taipei, Taiwan. Baker ended up playing more because this team was made up of only university students. In Taipei, she was used mostly as a substitute, but in the team’s last game against Latvia, Baker started and played all three sets. She led the team in spike and running sets ratio, and was second in serves and third in digs. Canada won that game in straight sets.
“Taipei seemed pretty nice and I was pretty confident going in there and getting to play there a lot more,” said Baker.
The past two seasons Baker played as right side at Dal and had to go back to playing setter, her natural position, in the summer. She said it was an adjustment, but she feels caught up to play that position, which is the one she will be playing this year for the Tigers.
The biggest takeaway Baker received about her experience this summer was the amount of work she needs to put into the sport in order to be successful. At the Universaide, when Canada was scrimmaging against Japan, there was a two-minute water break available during parts of the game. The Japanese players would take a quick sip and go back on the court to do 10-15 extra reps. Baker saw how beneficial that was because the Japanese made it to the finals.
“I just think that it kind of exposed me to the amount of effort it takes to be that good, that it is rewarding, and that it does work if you actually put in the work and do what it takes,” said Baker. “There is a lot of talk behind it, but I think it’s important and it shows when I saw them make the finals at the tournament.”
Baker believes if Dal puts in the hard work required to be a great team, then they could win a national championship. She is planning to lead the team on that front. Scott said it’s too early for him to say if she has become that leader, but he has noticed that she is more composed coming back this year.
“We noticed she is a more mature athlete from that experience, which will really help us on the court and really help us provide leadership on and off the court,” said head coach Rick Scott.
Scott also believes Baker’s impact can stretch further than Dalhousie. If Baker, who is from Bridgewater, N.S, can make the national team, it shows that other athletes from Atlantic Canada and the AUS can do the same.
“It hasn’t happened often and we hope it happens more, and I think she has proven that it can be done,” said Scott. “I hope it leads to more kids making the program in future years.”
Baker is happy with her summer and excited to get the upcoming season going with Dal.
“It was a great summer, it was a great experience,” said Baker. “It wasn’t all super smooth but I think that I learned a lot and I’m excited for this upcoming season.”