If injuries were spots due to melanin buildup beneath the skin, the freckle-prone Dinos women's volleyball team has spent too long basking in the glory of the sun. They went into a pair of road games against Canada West's top team, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, Jan. 28-29, short four players.
Joanna Niemczewska has been out all season, with damaged meniscus in her right knee taking longer to heal than expected. While the decision to bench the two-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport Women's Volleyball Player of the Year was made in early January, the loss of other players has left too many empty shoes on the court.
Brittany Hutton, one of the team's two setters, has been out for about three months with a stress fractured femur. She is currently easing back into practice, but won't be game-ready until at least a week before nationals begin in early March.
Holly Harper, a second year who was having an incredible season, will undergo surgery at the end of February for injuries to her ACL, MCL and meniscus suffered in December. Following the surgery, her recovery is expected to take six to eight months.
Finally, Willemina Stikker-Breemhaar, a transfer to the Dinos from the University of California Riverside who had just begun to play and was having a positive impact on the team, went under the knife to repair her Achilles tendon Tue., Jan. 31. Her injury, suffered two weeks ago, is expected to have a recovery period between six months and a year.
Janelle Findlay will likely sit out games Feb. 3-4 with a bruised foot. Head coach Kevin Boyles hopes to see some improvement in the next few days, which will rule out the possibility of a break.
"Overall we have stepped up and handled so many challenges this year," said fifth year Natalie Schwartz. "There have been so many low blows. And just when we catch our wind, we get sucker punched again. But this is a team that makes no excuses and still believes they can win nationals."
With a group of nine players, the Dinos made their best efforts to pose a threat to the dominating UBC squad, but were preyed upon like cute little bunnies. Saturday's game saw the Dinos quickly down two sets (25-18, 25-22). The game was gaining momentum towards an early demise as the T-Birds led the third set 24-23. But the Dinos managed to win the scraps for the following three points for a 24-26 win.
However, the T-Birds got their stride back in the fourth set, earning a 25-19 match-winning set. Having beaten the T-Birds in straight sets in both of two pre-season match-ups, this became the first time the Dinos fell to the T-Birds since they were knocked out of contention for the national championship title in the semi-final round in March of 2005.
Carolyn MacDonald and Lauren Perry led the Dinos in kills with nine each. Neda Boroumand posted a match-high 18 digs while Schwartz added 10 digs and 35 assists.
Sunday's game was a virtual repeat of the previous evening's match. The Dinos simply couldn't get the ball through the UBC blockers, but couldn't thwart their attack either. Our ladies were out-blocked 14-2 on the night. The T-Birds again dominated the first two sets (25-17, 25-15), stumbled with a 22-25 third set loss, then finished off the job with a 25-16 fourth set.
"We were beaten up so badly on Sunday, it was a pretty big accomplishment," Boyles said of the third-set win. "The problem now is maintaining that for a full match."
MacDonald and Perry again led the Dinos' attack with 10 and nine digs respectively. Boroumand had a match-high 25 digs and was joined by Raynell Lavertu who had 16.
The Dinos return home to take on the Simon Fraser University Clan in the Jack Simpson Gymnasium. Games are Fri., Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. and Sat., Feb. 4 at 4 p.m.
The Dinos have a free ride to nationals as the hosts. This means Boyles' goals have not changed.
"Fortunately, our goal has always been to win the last three games of the year," he explained. "[The losses] just changes how we have to approach it."
He knows that with a weakened team, it will be more difficult, but has faith in the remaining players.
"At this point, with the resources we have, [UBC] is probably a better team," he admits. "They'll beat us four of five games. But we'll make sure that one comes at nationals."
"We have to remind ourselves every day: the players we still have are quality athletes."