NNU Volleyball looks to get back into NCAA Tournament in 2018September 5, 2018
After having their pre-season tournament in Hawaii cut short with two games cancelled due to Hurricane Lane, the SFU Volleyball team will travel to California this weekend before beginning Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) play on Thursday, September 6 against Saint Martin’s University at home.
The team will be looking at getting back into the playoffs this season after narrowly missing out last year, due in large part to a tough start to the season. 2017 saw the Clan finish with a 12–8 conference record, placing them fifth in the GNAC behind Western Washington, Northwest Nazarene, Central Washington and Alaska Anchorage.
Things are looking up for this season, however, and the Clan was picked to finish third in the conference in the GNAC Preseason Volleyball Coaches Poll. When asked about this by The Peak via email, SFU head coach Gina Schmidt said, “I think the GNAC coaches saw how our team was playing at the end of last season and respect the fact that we have a large group of key players returning this season.”
The two teams picked above Simon Fraser are the unanimously favoured Western Washington Vikings (who finished with a 19–1 conference record last year) and the Central Washington Wildcats. Since the top four teams in the conference make the playoffs, we can expect the SFU Volleyball team to be playing beyond the regular season this year.
Despite this, the path will not be easy for the Clan, with Alaska Anchorage and Northwest Nazarene both looking to make the playoffs again this season. The best thing for Simon Fraser will be to get off to a hot start. With a core group of players returning and six of the team’s first eight conference games being at home, there is no reason for the Clan to struggle out of the gate as they did last season.
When asked about how the team hopes to get off to a better start this year, Schmidt responded: “With the majority of our team returning this year, the learning curve is not as steep and our players have a much better understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Already we are seeing much smoother play on the court compared to last preseason so we are hoping that continues into our upcoming matches.”
After being named an All-American last season, Senior Middle-Blocker Tessa May will be looking to lead the Clan to a fifth-straight winning season. Last season saw her lead the Clan in both hitting percentage (.366) and blocks (111), and she will more than likely be a force for SFU in her final year.
While May is surely one of the keys for the Clan’s season, one of the team’s biggest strengths is its depth. As stated by Schmidt, the team has a lot of options on offence and will look to keep other teams off balance with its versatility. Players like Kirsten Pinkney, Betsie de Beer, and Lauren Fridman are all poised for strong seasons as Outside Hitters and will look to terrorize opponents from the get go. Schmidt is also excited in the prospects of defensive specialists Katerina Dolguikh, Jayme Bratsberg, and Bianca Te, “who will anchor the defence and serve receive.”
Another one of the Clan’s biggest strengths is their record at home. Last year saw the team win 80% of their games in Burnaby (8-2 overall), and they were one of the highest attendance-drawing teams at Simon Fraser University last year. With a large amount of home games to start the GNAC season, it will important for them to build momentum early.
There are heavy expectations in place for the SFU Volleyball team this year, set both by the team itself and by the rest of the conference. When asked about the team’s goal for the season, Schmidt responded with, “Our goal is to improve on our finish from last season and make it back into the NCAA tournament. We have the depth and experience for this to be a very attainable goal.” It is very difficult to disagree.