It’s a team game
It’s always tough to lose a star player.
For the University of Regina Cougars women’s volleyball team, saying goodbye to Beth Clark at the end of last season was obviously hard to do. Clark accomplished a lot in her career with the Cougars. Last season alone, the 6-0 middle blocker was a CIS second team all-Canadian, a Canada West first team all-star, led the conference in points per set (4.24) and was second in both hitting percentage (.319) and kills (250). She set records at the U of R for career kills (948), blocks (341) and service aces (102).
As solid as Clark was, however, Cougars head coach Melanie Sanford notes that she was just one player.
“You never really rely on one player – not in our sport,” said Sanford, whose team opens up the season on the road with a game against the University of Manitoba Bisons on Friday and Saturday. “Our sport is a real team game. There is not one player that can get it done for the team. That’s what can be the beauty and the frustration of the sport. When you get people not on the same page, it can really hurt you. At the same time, when it works well, it’s what’s really special.”
Solveig Nilson will likely be the player to replace Clark this season. She is one of four fourth-year players on the team, including Meagan Onstad, Tiffany Herman, and Rebecca Rink. Sanford has confidence in her players, but does note that she feels “no one can replace Clark.”
“We will have a different kind of leadership this year,” she added. “Beth and Meagan Smith (the other player the Cougars lost to graduation in the off-season) were in that leadership role last year. Each of them were quite different in their leadership style, but worked together well. It will be different people this year. We have several players in their fourth and third year that will provide leadership.”
As a team, the Cougars improved a lot last season. After posting a record of 10-12 two seasons ago and being knocked out of the conference quarterfinals by the University of Calgary Dinos, Regina posted a record of 18-9 last season, winning the conference and placing fifth at the CIS Championship.
“It was a special year last year, because we learned how to win,” Sanford said. “The only way to become a winner is to be in a tough situation and work through it. We had to do that a lot last year.”
Sanford sees no reason why the team couldn't match or build off of that success this season.
“We’re hoping that the players that experienced the success last year will bring it to the team this year,” she said. “Of course we want to make the playoffs and then go from there.”
During the preseason, Regina had two wins and nine losses. In the preseason, and even at the start of the season, Sanford realizes her team has to go through the learning process.
“I think this group is trying to work it out,” she said. “They’re trying to find out what their new roles are on the team. Even though it was the preseason, I don’t like losses at any time. I think a loss is only a good one if you’re learning and making changes. This is a highly intelligent group of women, but we still need to learn some lessons.”