Women’s volleyball rebuilding in 2020

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The tough year continues for the volleyball team.

The standings look ugly, but the Cougars have shown signs of life

The Cougars women’s volleyball team has had the most dramatic downturn of any campus team in the 2019-2020 season. In 2018-2019, the Cougars dominated the regular season; they went 16-8 and carried that momentum all the way to the Canada West quarterfinals where they lost in a 3-2 heartbreaker to the UBC Thunderbirds. Along the way the team earned many accolades, Taylor Ungar set a Cougar record in digs, Satomi Tagowa won Cougar Female Athlete of the Year, and coach Melanie Sanford won Canada West Coach of the Year after leading the Cougars to a strong regular season finish.

In 2019-2020, the team looks like a ghost of last year’s dominant roster. With just three weeks left in the season, the team sits 2-16 at the bottom of the Canada West table. They are far from playoff position for 2020 which, for a team that was pushing for a deep playoff run just a year ago, seems disastrous. So, what has happened with the Cougars volleyball team in 2020?

First, the team has graduated some of their key pieces from last season. Alongside libero Ungar, the team also said goodbye to outside hitter Ashlee Sandiford, who led the team in service aces and attack attempts. The team also lost all-time season assist leader Tagowa. Together, that means that the majority of the Cougars core was swapped out for the 2019-2020 season.

With a new core comes some rebuilding time, especially with a young group. The Cougars now have just one graduating player, outside hitter Diana Lumbala. Instead, Cougars have six first and second-years. While not many of these new players are starting yet, there are new faces making strides in the lineup. New libero Sierra Parris-Kruger has filled the void left by Ungar admirably, averaging 3.94 blocks per set, just short of Ungar’s 4.51. Brit Davis has also been a welcome addition, she is second on the team in digs, kills, and points in 2019-2020. However, as a team, they are not quite there yet.

The biggest difference between the 2018-2019 Cougars is their attacking percentage. While the Cougars have continued to out-attack other teams, generating 2161 attacks to their opponents’ 2082, their hitting percentage is just 0.118, compared to their opponent’s average of 0.211. This means that while the Cougars are getting their chances, they are converting on them at only half the rate of their opponents. However, there has been improvement in this area, which can be seen in their close loss to the University of Saskatchewan this past weekend. In those two games, the Cougars actually out-hit the Huskies in both games, and on Saturday the Cougars hit 0.184, which is far above their season average. This improvement indicates that the players are beginning to step into their roles and find some success, despite what the results on the scoreboard may show. Coach Sanford has proven many times that she can get the most out of a roster and, with the right additions and improvements in the offseason, the Cougars will be looking to get back into contention in 2021.

The Cougars final home games are Feb. 7 and 8.

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