It’s been almost 36 years since the Dalhousie University Tigers women’s volleyball team won a national medal. It was 1982 when the Tigers claimed gold, and 1984 was the last time they won silver.
Ranked third in the country at the time of writing, and sitting atop the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) standings for the past seven years, this could be the season that the Tigers again see results at the national level.
“We know we’ve got a team that’s got the potential to do that,” says head coach Rick Scott.
Last year, the Tigers won the AUS and competed at the U Sports national championship in Edmonton, Alta. They won 3-0 against the Université de Montreal Carabins, lost 3-2 to eventual tournament winners the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and in the bronze medal game, lost to the University of Alberta Pandas in five sets.
Scott says the experience of playing some of the top teams in the country is invaluable.
“We know we can beat them and we know we can play with them, and now it’s just taking that next step,” he says. “We have the confidence [and] we’re not intimidated by them at all.”
But they aren’t getting ahead of themselves. In order to qualify for nationals, the Tigers need to win the AUS this season. If they do, it’ll be the eighth year in a row that they’ve earned the conference title.
Off to a start to the season of eight wins, no losses, it’s very possible — as long as the team doesn’t become complacent.
“We’re not just going to be given the title. Everyone really wants to beat us, desperately,” says Scott. “The teams are good in our conference and we’re good, but we gotta play well to win. We can’t just show up.”
Keys to the game
Dal has an experienced roster; over half of their players are third-years or older and have multiple AUS championships and national tournaments under their belts. Standouts include last year’s league MVP setter Courtney Baker and former AUS rookie of the year outside Julie Moore, both selected to play at the international level this summer.
Beyond that, the Tigers have depth at almost every position, especially with liberos and outside hitters. That helps to challenge each other in training, as well as providing some insurance in case of injuries — other players can step up and fill gaps.
Another key to the Tigers’ success, says Scott, is complementing regular season games against AUS teams with out-of-province competition. In October, the Tigers travelled to Ottawa for a tournament against teams from Ontario and Quebec. In December, they’ll go to Winnipeg to play more teams outside of the Atlantic conference.
Above all, the team has to continue working hard if they want to be successful at the national level.
“We can’t be satisfied that we’ve arrived, that we’re good at any position,” says Scott. “Every one of us needs to get better.”
Maintaining that mindset of improvement throughout a long season means working towards a team goal ahead of individual goals.
“Being a close-knit team that’s really supportive and really plays for one another is worth one or two points on the scoreboard, if not more,” says Scott. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing.”
After that, they’ll need a little bit of luck. Come March, the Tigers volleyball program could bring home an AUS banner and perhaps a national medal back to Halifax.