The Notre Dame Cougars warm up ahead of their exhibition game with the Hunting Hills Lightning. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

The Notre Dame Cougars warm up ahead of their exhibition game with the Hunting Hills Lightning. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Notre Dame Cougars volleyball riding youth movement in 2019

The Notre Dame Cougars are building for the future but hope they can still push the envelope in 2019.

After the boys won the central zone and qualified for Provincials last year, they graduated eight players, most of whom had the majority of playing time. A lot of this season will be played with 2020 in mind.

They will play host to the 4A Alberta Schools Athletic Association Volleyball Championships next fall and making sure they ice a competitive team as the host is a factor with this years’ young group.

“We do have a younger team and I am in that building mentality. We had that conversation actually at the start of the season and we decided, as much as we are going to have a lot of guys coming back (next year), we don’t want this to be a throwaway season either,” said Cougars coach AJ Mahoney.

“Lots of guys have really committed to, ‘let’s just see what we can do this season.’ And not necessarily say, we’re out of it. Let’s work and if we can do some damage, then great. If we don’t we have lots of guys coming back. They really are committed to making this still a statement of a season.”

Despite graduating a huge part of their lineup last season, the Cougars still have three Grade 12 players with outside hitter Jess Money and setter Paul Pearce.

“They have really embraced that role, as our only two returning Grade 12s,” Mahoney said.

“They really have stepped up and said we’re going to take charge and we’re going to make sure what we want to see, happens. It’s a huge deal to me to have them take that leadership role.”

Beyond that, the Cougars have eight Grade 11 players and Tate Howell as a Grade 10.

Mahoney said with September behind them, there’s still lots of development ahead for his group.

“We’ve got some guys that lack a little bit of big-match experience, but they’re really making up for it with their desire to improve and their desire to prove something about how a young team can perform,” he added.

For the Cougars senior girls, injuries have put a damper on development so far.

Still, head coach Dana Woroniuk said they’ve got a good mix of talent and should be competitive by the end of the year.

“We’ve been dealing with some injuries… it’s hard to tell exactly what the team is going to be like. We’re a little bit inconsistent,” she said.

“We also have some people who are working hard at being multifaceted and I think overall, I have pretty good depth. Because of the injuries, people are playing in more than one position.”

Woroniuk figures that the central zone league play will be an excellent test for all four teams.

“I think it’s a tight league this year, it will be competitive and I think we have four teams where the (zone) semi-finals are going to be really exciting,” she said.

“How exciting is it to have such exciting matches in your regular league play?”

They also have some young pieces with the hopes those players can be huge factors when the 2020 ASAA Provincials arrive next fall.

Grade 11 Shynelle Woroniuk is major cog in the Cougars’ wheel, as well as Grade 12 setter Asha Weaver, Jayden Johannson and senior middles Abby Heron and Kennedy Shooter.

“Overall, the team, they work hard, I have a group of girls that work hard and are focused. They are buying into the fact that we need to spend time working on the building blocks and then move forward,” the head coach added.

The Cougars also have a trio of Grade 10s in Sydney Monaghan, Hayley Zinger and Lauren Junck.

On Oct. 9, the Cougars host the Lacombe Rams in the first regular-season matchup.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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