Canada West volleyball season dawns for U Sask. Huskies men’s, women’s teams

Click to play video: 'New chapter for U Sask. Huskies volleyball program as Canada West season begins'
New chapter for U Sask. Huskies volleyball program as Canada West season begins
WATCH: The dawn of a new Canada West volleyball season has both the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's and women's teams hungry for growth in becoming contenders – Oct 20, 2023

In a single word, the 2022-23 University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s volleyball team was ‘clutch.’

Time and time again, the Huskies found a way to pull out wins, often in five-set thrillers, to earn a Canada West bronze medal and accomplish something the program hadn’t done since 2015.

That being qualify for the U Sports National Championship tournament, which they were able to punch their ticket for back in March.

“I think that’s what we did really good last year was stepping up and winning in that Canada West game to make it to nationals,” said third-year middle blocker Jack McGeough. “As well as beating UBC [in quarter-finals] being a really good team there.”
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Their time in Hamilton, Ont., didn’t go quite to plan, however, as the Huskies fell in both of their games to the host McMaster Marauders and the Montreal Carabins in the consolation bracket, eventually finishing the tournament in eighth place.

Head coach Sean McKay said that result proves there’s still more growth needed for the program, as the Huskies enter the 2023-24 Canada West season.

“While we had a great team last year, we’re not quite at the level to take a championship home yet,” said McKay. “So I think they know that we have to up the amount of work we’re doing. That’s everything from video, weight room, practice.

“We need to change what we’re doing if we want different results.”

Click to play video: 'Huskies teammates chosen for Canada’s national U21 men’s volleyball team'
Huskies teammates chosen for Canada’s national U21 men’s volleyball team

A vastly different Huskies team is preparing for the opening set of the 2023-24 season compared to the squad that competed in Ontario this past spring.

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Dylan Mortensen, the fifth-year outside hitter who broke the Canada West all-time career kills record, headlined a group of Huskies stars who graduated from the program after U Sports nationals.

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Also departing were outside Levi Olson, setter Jake Rapin, as well as middles Quinn Buchanan and Mark Armstrong, which means a new wave of talent will need to take over, according to McKay.

“It’s not that you can replace that amount of points right away,” said McKay. “But how can we find different ways to do that? So it’s players that can maybe play a couple different positions, we’re going to be a little bigger through the middle this year size-wise.”

McGeough is coming off a 161-kill campaign and will likely be one of the team’s key weapons alongside Isaiah Mamer, Lucas Musschoot, and the new Australian duo of Jefferson Morrow and Jacob Baird.

He said the lessons learned from the previous group of seniors will help lead this year’s crop of Huskies ranked eighth in the conference.

“We might not have the same lineup every game as we did last year,” said McGeough. “We might cycle through guys, I think that will be good for us. I think we have a lot of guys who are good and can step into those roles.”

As for the Huskies women’s volleyball team, they will be aiming for a bounce-back season in 2023-24.

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Inconsistency plagued the Huskies last year, eventually finishing the regular season with a 10-14 record and narrowly missing out on Canada West playoffs.

“To not make your goal is obviously sad,” said fifth-year outside hitter Olivia Mattern. “But it gives you that little bit of motivation to make it and achieve your goals this year.”

The long layoff between their final regular season game and the start of the new campaign has Huskies women’s team head coach Mark Dodds eagerly anticipating what his team will bring, especially when it comes to improving their offensive game.

“As athletes and teams we always look for motivation,” said Dodds. “I think there’s no better recipe than to look back on last year and some of the areas where we failed a little bit, and trying to ultimately reach those goals this year.”

Averaging 10.47 kills per set, the Huskies ranked 11th out of 14 teams in the conference in that category last season and say they’re now putting more of a focus on their attack starting this fall.

“If you’re not killing the ball it’s tough to win,” said Dodds. “We’re definitely going to score the ball more than we did last year, I think that’s going to be the biggest factor. If we can keep the block and dominate on the defensive side with our size, and then we kill the ball a little bit more, we’re going to be a tough team to play against.”

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Ranked 10th in the conference pre-season coaches poll, the Huskies will be returning most of their 2022-23 team including Mattern, middle Mandi Fraser and setter Annika Radke.

However, the team lost a handful of standouts to graduation such as veteran Averie Allard, libero Jessica Andjelic and outside Caet McCorkell.

“Our motto this year is developing a level of trust that a championship team will have,” said Mattern. “I believe the things we’re doing so far are leading into a good direction, so I’m excited to see where it goes.”

The Huskies will welcome the Brandon University Bobcats to town for a pair of games each to open their seasons, beginning Friday with the men going first at 6:00 pm followed by the women at 7:30 pm.

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