The word consolation came up a little too much for the Notre Dame Cougars liking last year.
The senior boy’s volleyball team were stuck behind arch rival Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School all season — first losing the zone final to the Raiders, then while LTCHS was celebrating provincial gold the Cougars brought back the consolation banner.
On Wednesday night they flexed some of their muscle in a 3-0 (25-19, 31-29, 25-14) win over the Hunting Hills Lightning at Notre Dame.
Head coach AJ Mahoney is hoping they can switch spots with the Raiders this year.
“I think the guys that were on that team have taken that as a lesson to take advantage of our opportunities,” said Mahoney, who will be joined on the bench this year by Dana Woroniuk. “We definitely have some opportunities to do some damage this year.”
The Cougars return six Grade 12 players from last season, but only two of them started — left side Michael Pearce and middle Devin Sheridan, both captains.
“They know my systems well and they know how I coach and they’ve stepped in pretty easily (as leaders),” said Mahoney, who is in his fifth year of coaching the Cougars.
The role of captain is one Pearce has embraced.
“I feel real comfortable with it, this is my third year on the team, so I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some good role models and leaders and so I just try and take the best things I’ve learned from them and try to apply it to this year,” said Pearce, 17. “But we’ve got a good group of guys, so it’s real easy for that to work.”
They have been joined by fellow senior and captain Jordy Quinn, 17, in the starting front on the right side. It is an expanded role for the third-year player, one he has accepted whole heartedly.
“It’s been differently especially with the leadership role and getting the troops behind you, and especially with playing a lot more, you’ve got to make sure you’re going out there consistently and playing your best,” said Quinn.
Two younger players who have stepped to the forefront is libero Kane LeBlanc and Parker Biletsky, who’s brother Daimyn Biletsky was the MVP of last year’s team and has now moved on to the Red Deer College Kings as a middle.
The Cougars started the season on fire, winning the RDC Fall Classic, now beating Hunting Hills twice while losing to LTCHS in a close five set match. They’ve also played the No. 1 ranked Strathcona Lords tight this past weekend, losing by just two points.
Right now they need to find some consistency.
“We’ve been a little more up and down than I like, but at the same time having only two players that played all the time last year and then having these new guys come in, I think we’re still trying to find where we click and where we connect,” said Mahoney.
Lightning 3, Cougars 1
The Notre Dame Cougars senior girls volleyball team is on a quest of team identity.
Under the guidance of new head coach Rob “Skip” Meckling, the only thing that has been consistent is the inconsistency.
This showed in their 3-1 (25-15, 25-19, 21-25, 25-17) loss to the Hunting Hills Lightning, after looking to be in control in the fourth set with a 15-12 lead, the Lightning fought back and scored 13 of the next 15 points to close out the match.
“We ran into a couple of mistakes and that seems to be our big challenge right now … when we run into some simple errors we don’t have a recovery switch or method,” said Meckling, who is joined on the bench this year by Jeremy Batchelor. “We struggle to find a way to minimize mistakes and points against us. Once it gets tight, this team is dealing with adversity where they’re unsure of where to go and who to go to and not panicking.”
The Cougars do have some talent at their disposal. They have a veteran core of six Grade 12 players, but their future is definitely bright with their Grade 11s and junior program.
Their captain is Grade 11 left side Kirsten Pinkney, 16, who came up with the team last year and also played with Team Alberta this summer.
“She’s very dynamic, she’s very athletic but she’s probably trying to do a lot, feeling the pressure to do a bit more than she needs to,” said Meckling.
Their other top player is middle Hayley Hollings who plays club ball with Pinkney.
The challenge for Meckling is to unlock the potential of the players surrounding them.
“We’re just trying to find the right combination and get the belief system going,” he said. “Once they get on a role and everything starts to work — we just need a string of rallies and points to happen in our favour and they’ll probably catch fire.”
Pinkney says the players are starting to catch on to their new coach’s systems but they still need some work.
“It’s starting to click and we’re just slowly getting into the swing of things,” she said. “It’s a different style, he’s very technical and knows what he’s talking about, so it’s nice to have that.”
Meckling insists the potential is there, he’s seen in it tournament play against top teams from Edmonton and Calgary, they just have a mental block when it comes to battling their two Red Deer rivals.
Last year the club finished second in the zone, but despite their current set of issues they plan on taking a run at the zone title and a spot at provincials.
“The expectation is to be in the (zone) final and have a good shot at winning it,” said Meckling. “The future of this school in volleyball is extremely strong … we’re sitting on a bunch of talent that’s coming in, but that’s not what we’re about right now … we’ve got to play for now.”