Anika Almero and Brett Boldon aim to be the best volleyball setters they can be.
The teammates for the Dalhousie University Tigers women’s volleyball team are competing for the vacant starting setter position in preparation for regular games potentially resuming next season. The position was held by Courtney Baker, a three-time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) MVP and the reigning U Sports women’s volleyball Player of the Year. Baker graduated from Dal last year.
Baker certainly set the bar high for her successors at the position, but Boldon and Almero are determined to rise to the challenge.
“I’m working to be the best I can be. Courtney’s an incredible player, but there’s only one of her and only one of me,” Boldon said. “I’m going to play my game and help my team win another championship.”
In her rookie year last season, Almero trained with Baker. The experience helped Almero improve her own game.
“It was amazing to have [Baker] guide me on the team when I started. She definitely set the bar high, but I’m working hard because of that, so when I step out onto the court, I’m ready to help my team,” she said. “One of my first thoughts taking this next step was ‘I’m going to be the best Anika Almero I can be.’”
With the eight-time defending AUS champion Tigers, there has been no shortage of hard practicing and training in a season hindered by COVID-19. One word sums up the team’s approach to this season: intensity.
“Training has been fun because even without actual competition, it’s been intense and competitive,” Almero said.
“It’s a huge jump from high school in terms of volume and pace, but I love it so far,” said Boldon, who’s in her first year at Dalhousie. “The whole team is super intense and passionate about the sport like me.”
There’s been no lack of intensity in competition for the setter position, Boldon added.
“It’s a super positive competition with Anika. We practice together quite a bit. It’s a grind to get everything done and to put the work in with her pushing me, but it’s a good relationship,” Boldon said.
“When I think about the best me, it’s working hard every day and always putting in effort. As long as I’m showing I’m ready to go and prepared, I feel I’m giving myself my best chance to get a starting role. But it’s also being there to support my teammates,” Almero said. “When I’m feeling confident, I try to boost everyone else up as well and keep a good mentality going around.”
At the beginning of the season, Head Coach Rick Scott talked with Almero and Boldon to ensure their focus would be on their own game and goals instead of trying to be the next Baker.
“[Baker] was a great player on the team, but they need to be the best versions of themselves,” Scott said. “They don’t need to be anyone else, but instead getting better as the best Brett Boldon and the best Anika Almero.”
Almero and Boldon said the relationships with their teammates has motivated them to be as successful as possible. Working with them and finding out where to improve has allowed them to identify their biggest strengths.
“I’ve found more confidence in myself. When I first began [as a rookie] last year, it was nerve-racking. Now I feel more confident and improved skill-wise,” Almero said. “I’m able to work on these without being as rushed or pressured with the break from games this year.”
Boldon said she uses her shorter height to define her own playing style as a setter.
“At my height, my style of play would be different from taller players. It comes with confidence in yourself and being able to adapt,” Boldon said. “Plus, I’m a really encouraging teammate. I’d say I like to hype my team up.”
Boldon said Scott told her to remember three points while competing for a spot on the Tigers: “Be true to yourself, play your game and know you can do it if you put the work in.”