Vikings volleyball poised for breakthrough
University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings Rebecca Petrie (4) and Brooke Lindmark (10) are back for another year with the team as they look to break through into the ACAC playoffs this year. File photo/ Camrose Canadian
The University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings women’s volleyball season was derailed before it could get started last year with critical injuries.
They return to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference court with fresh outlook, a new head coach and high expectations.
Athletic director Greg Ryan took over the reins when former head coach Jim Kuchera stepped down due to health reasons this spring, but he inherited a cupboard of players that he says is ready for prime time.
“They’re really exciting, very athletic, more so than I actually thought,” said Ryan. “The coaches did a good job recruiting and all of the work they put in the previous three years has really started to pay off. We’re going to be very good.”
Ryan plans to build the team around a precision passing game that will take advantage of their outside hitters.
“We want to make sure we are attacking at a really high level, we want to get away from a whole bunch of tipping and hit the ball really hard all the time,” he said. “It requires them to pass the ball really high and take a few more chances than maybe they’re used to do.”
This aggressive style of volleyball will be accentuated by the presence of four spike servers in the lineup, making them potentially dangerous from the service line as well.
There are a few top returning players, including middle Rebecca Petrie, left side Rae Metrunec, and setter Karen Wagner.
Petrie says Ryan brings a different approach to the gym every day.
“It’s been really good. Practice has changed a lot, it has got faster paced and it makes it exciting to come every day,” said the third-year player out of Tomahawk, Alta. “It’s nice to get a new perspective.”
One of the big improvements this year will be their depth, so if the injuries start to pile up, they will be able to continue forward and not see as much of a drop off.
“It’s so dramatically important and would have made a huge difference last year because some of our key players got hurt right off the bat and that was devastating,” said Petrie. “It is so good to have a full lineup this year.”
There a number of first year players Ryan is excited about like setter Sarah Dedrick, right side hitter Amy Mulder, middle Payton Bouvier and middle Cari Kilmartin.
Kilmartin is perhaps the biggest wildcard on the roster. At 21, the Leduc product, has not played competitive volleyball in three years, despite playing high school and club level volleyball until graduation.
She returned to the sport after returning to school this semester after working for Air Canada as a customer service representative.
She is now enrolled in the history program at the school and will see where that takes her.
The biggest challenge for her is shaking an extra layer of rust that most of her teammates will not have.
“The first couple of weeks were embarrassing, I think is a good word for it,” said Kilmartin with a laugh. “I am feeling way more into it because our practices are really well run and really hard so you get into it quickly.”
The Vikings struggled to a 6-16 record last season, finishing second last to the Concordia University of Edmonton. They have not qualified for the ACAC championship tournament since joining the league in 2010.
Ryan is not letting that history stand in the way of their immediate future.
“I always expect I’m going to win,” he said. “You’ve got to be realistic about that too, but now that I’ve worked with them for a month, I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation at all. They’re as big as anybody, they’re as athletic as anyone we’ve seen so far, it’s just a question of putting a few things together and being patient. It will be new territory for them.”
They open their season on Oct. 20 when they host the Concordia Thunder at 6 p.m.