Last year did not end the way it was supposed to for the Vancouver Island University Mariners women's volleyball team.
Coming off a Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championship on home court in 2012, they were primed for a run at a repeat. They rolled into the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships in 2013 as the No. 2 ranked team in the province, but were upset by the Columbia Bible College Bearcats in the semifinals.
It has been a long summer to sit on that final thought.
"It's a different mindset, it's a hungrier bunch," said head coach Shane Hyde. "In the back of our minds we all know what happened, but we haven't talked about It much. .. I'm excited to see a group of girls that are excited to be athletes."
Instead of dwelling on it, Hyde hit the recruiting trail and brought in some top talent to help fill what few voids they had on their roster. Their biggest loss was all-Canadian, fifth-year setter Dani Smith, who is now in Winnipeg playing for the national team.
But this wasn't a priority position for Hyde to fill. He says he brought in her replacement last season - Ashley Cousens from Capilano - and groomed her specifically for this season. He also brought in B.C. High School provincial 4A MVP Emma Robinson out of South Delta as his floor general of the future.
"It's time for Ashley Cousens, she was a two-time PacWest all-star and last year she wasn't given a chance because of Dani," said Hyde. "This whole process of the present and the future. .. it's something I really thought out and calculated how it was going to work to replace Dani."
His other recruits - Jenna Pearce out of Ballenas and Mickey Roelants - help address issues they had at depth on the power positions. He is also hoping on power hitter Hanna Gahler, who transferred from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology out of Edmonton last year, to take the next step with more of an opportunity.
The veteran leadership gap left by Smith will be filled by multiple players. Power Leanna Gildersleeve, Paige Wiebe and Cousens are all back as fifth year seniors.
"There was a lot more pressure last year on Dani and (Sandra Veikle) being the only two fifth years, but we have a lot more this year," said Gildersleeve, 24.
Gildersleeve wants to leave one final mark on the program. She is coming off of an all-Canadian season in her second year since transferring to VIU from Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton after two years. CCAA player of the year honours are definitely a possibility if she continues to improve, but her main goal is more team oriented. "We do have a lot of fifth years so that is not how we want to go out, we're going to make it very clear to the rest of the team that it's not going to be acceptable," she said.
"We're going to have really hard practices and make sure we are hitting the gym so that we are in peak performance, minimize injuries and gel as a team." Other big names to watch this year are middles Tylar Turnbull and Ashley Van Acken, outside hitter Megan Groendyke and power Alyssa Wolf who played for the provincial team at the Canada Summer Games.
In every area, the Mariners are stacked for that run, but Hyde says this is a different team than the last two years. When they one in 2012, they won with style, flash and power. When they were on top of their game, they were almost unbeatable.
Last year they reached for that style even when it wasn't there, and it cost them in games like the PacWest semifinal, there was almost a sense of over confidence.
Though camp has just opened, Hyde already senses a more workmanlike, determined feel to this group.
Everyone knows a CCAA championship berth is expected. A repeat of last year will not be accepted.
"Once you've tasted it, it's always going to be the expectation," said Hyde.
"We've got the players to do it this year for sure, we've got the team to do it."
The Mariners exhibition season gets going in a few weeks, with matches against American programs.
© Copyright 2013