(FREDERICTON, NB) There’s a youth movement within the UNB Varsity Reds women’s volleyball program.
11 of the team’s 15 players are in their first or second years with the team.
It’s one of the team’s strengths, according to head coach Jilliane Portelli.
“The four ‘older’ players have all shown great leadership this year, as have a couple of our younger athletes,” said Portelli. “We have come together very quickly, and relatively seamlessly, and that wouldn’t have happened without both the leadership and the special group of young athletes.”
The Varsity Reds open the 2017-18 Atlantic University Sport on Saturday when they host the Universite de Moncton Aigles Bleues. First serve is scheduled for 2:00pm, at UNB’s Richard J. Currie Center.
“We’ve got really good chemistry, and we’ve bonded right off the bat,” said veteran setter Maggie McLenahan(Oromocto, NB). She’s one of Portelli’s four ‘older’ players and a co-captain. “We’ve got an energetic team with lots of drive to reach the goals that we’ve set.”
McLenahan likes the make-up of this year’s team.
“We’ve got lots of depth in every position, with versatile players across the board.”
Molly Gallibois(New Carlisle, QC) is the other co-captain. Megan Kuciak(Ottawa, ON) and Robyn Anderson(Jaffray, BC) round out the team’s veteran core.
The Varsity Reds are coming off a forgettable 2016-17 season that saw them endure a 15-match losing streak on route to a 3-17 finish.
But that difficult season is in the past.
Portelli, who was on maternity leave last season, is only looking forward.
“It’s not a focus for us,” she says, of last season. “We’ve made a lot of changes and we’re a different team this year.”
“I don't believe last season is a factor for anyone,” said second year hitter Kristen Burns(Mississauga, ON).
She was one of the bright lights last season, named AUS Rookie of the Year.
“This year is a clean slate, to begin with a new team,” she said. “Of course, we can’t forget about last year, but if anything, it’s motivation to do better and come out as a strong and competitive team.”
Burns hopes last season’s struggles help to toughen this season’s Varsity Reds.
“Something the team needs to work on is aggression,” said Burns. “There are always opportunities for us to swing harder to get kills or serve harder to ace the other teams. As the season progresses, we’ll have good competition and we’ll need to stay aggressive.”
As for the team’s goals for this season, McLenahan is confident.
“We’ve got our eyes on a banner and we’re ready to put in the work that’s going to get us to nationals,” she said.
The Varsity Reds are ready to take their first step toward that goal on Saturday.
“We’re all very excited to get our regular season rolling after a productive pre-season,” said McLenahan. “We’re eager to show what we’ve been working on and the team that we’ve got this year.”