It’s been an impressive turnaround for Dal’s women’s volleyball team over the past five years. Under coach Rick Scott, the team has gone from perennial afterthought to championship contender.
“We’ve brought in a lot of really good athletes that are physical and athletic, but also a bunch of girls with great character, great work ethic and have really bought in to what I’m preaching as a coach,” said Scott.
“They deserve the credit.”
The Tigers were on the precipice of completing their road to redemption last season, but fell short in the final against Saint Mary’s. This year, the team is focused on finishing the job.
“We got one big goal ahead, and that’s to win the AUS,” Scott said. “We haven’t really accomplished anything yet. We’re pleased with where we are but we know we got to go and play well [this] weekend.”
At the heart of the team is a group of five veteran players who have been instrumental in leading the Tigers to an undefeated season against AUS opponents.
Louise Facca, Marlee Powers, Hilary Sears, Tarah-Lynn Truant and Raeesa Lalani have been on the roster since Scott’s second season and are products of his extensive recruiting.
“It’s taken him about four years to build the team that he saw was going to be AUS champions,” said Lalani. “Having [this] core group of girls at the start and every year adding more and more.
“They know the expectations of being a Dal Tigers women’s volleyball player, both on and off the court,” said Scott of his upper-year players. “They’ve really done a great job of setting the tone in practice, the work ethic, the commitment and helping the young players.”
The Tigers have improved steadily since Scott’s tenure began in the 2008-09 season. After missing the playoffs that first year, the team advanced to the quarter-finals in 2009-10, the semis the year following and the final last spring.
Scott’s coaching philosophy revolves around what he calls “the process.” He attributes his team’s success to focusing on the fundamentals of the game and working hard at every interval.
“When you start worrying about that other stuff, like winning and the score, you’re not thinking about passing the ball and hitting the ball and serving the ball,” Scott said.
“Pass and dig” added Truant regarding the team’s focus. “Being ready to adapt to whatever we hit.”
This attention to detail begins at practice, where the mood is intense. “He pushes us hard at every practice. He doesn’t hold back, he makes sure to get the best out of us every time,” said Powers. “He’s very, very passionate.”
This season, the Tigers sit atop the standings at 16-2 heading into the six-team playoffs this weekend at Memorial University. Their record ensures them a bye into the Feb. 16 semifinals, where they face the winner of the St. Francis Xavier-UNB quarter-final.
If the Tigers win the championship, which would be their first since 2005, they move on to CIS nationals in Sherbrooke.
Dal is currently the third ranked team in the country.
The team is confident they can succeed this weekend, but are grounded by Scott’s emphasis on the task at hand and the memory of losing last year’s championship to SMU.
“It was a tough loss,” said Sears. “Everybody came back knowing that we’re going to put in all the effort and not take any plays off or any time off to achieve an AUS championship. We’re just going to give it our all.”
Scott agrees that this is their year.
“We have a really deep team, we’ve got a lot of people that can come in and provide a spark. That’s the key to our success,” he said.
Amidst the pressure of entering the AUS championships as the top seed, Scott manages to keep things in perspective for his team with a message of tempered confidence.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re ready for it.”
A lifelong sports fan, Benjamin Blum entered the world of journalism after suffering a concussion playing rugby for the University of King’s College. From that moment, his twin passions for writing and sports motivated the Thornhill, Ont. native to give this journalism thing a try. Having been an athlete, coach and fan for many years, Ben brings his diverse knowledge of sports along with a witty sense of humour to the sports section. Ben was Sports Editor of the Gazette for Volume 146.