Contenders it is.
With some doubting the strength of this year's Dinos women's volleyball squad, a statement was made Sat., Jan. 17 in Edmonton. Facing their arch-rivals, the #2 ranked University of Alberta Pandas, the top-ranked Dinos had a score to settle after being swept 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-18) Fri., Jan. 16.
And they did just that on Saturday, knocking the Pandas down a peg with a convincing 3-1 (25-22, 25-27, 25-15, 25-19) beat down in front of a gaggle of stunned Edmontonians.
"That first night we got spanked, there's no other way to put it," said third-year Dino Joanna Niemczewska. "If we had been swept by U of A it would have been a huge deal."
"I think we put on a pretty good show Saturday, though," she added with a grin.
Dinos Head Coach Kevin Boyles was also sporting an irrepresible grin when asked about the weekend. Boyles is well aware the Pandas are not only his club's geographic rivals, but their biggest threat to Canada West supremacy as well.
"They don't overpower you, they don't overwhelm you and they don't make a lot of mistakes," said Boyles of the Pandas. "But we have an extra gear we can step up to that they just don't have. When we get into top gear, they can't play with us."
With what was clearly the biggest weekend of the 2004 portion of the Dinos' regular season schedule out of the way, the volleysaurs still have a sextet of matches to worry about, although an emotional let down apparently isn't an issue.
"We've got lots of motivation left," explained Boyles. "If we go clean in our last six games, we have a very good chance of hosting the [Canada West] Final Four."
First stop on the road to the postseason comes Jan. 23-24 as the Dinos host the Trinity Western University Spartans at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium.
A tip of the hat to fifth-year Dino and team captain Amanda Moppett who showed true grit against the Pandas, playing through bronchitis which led her to be hospitalized following Saturday's tilt. Niemczewska chalked Moppett's perseverance up to her never-say-die competitiveness, saying the captain is a player her teammates look up to and respect.
"We're doing this well without her at 100 per cent," said Boyles of his star's rough year thus far. "When she gets back, we'll be absolutely dominant. It's been hard on her, but I have so much confidence in her, I know she'll just light it up when she gets back."