Strength in numbers

John Browne
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Five of the seven starters on MUN’s women’s team are products of Bishops College

Memorial women volleyball players (from bottom, clockwise), Julia Watts, Angela Peddle, Beth Forsey, Chantel Jones and Erin Bursey work out at the Dr. Noel Browne High Performance Centre at the PowerPlex (Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre). All five are starters for the MUN Sea-Hawks and all five played high school volleyball for Bishops College in St. John’s — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Fifth-year Memorial Sea-Hawks volleyball veteran Beth Forsey refused to say who talks the most off the court, but teammate Erin Bursey took her off the hook.

“Yeah,” Bursey said laughing, “it’s me.”

Forsey, with a glint in her eye, agreed that Bursey does most of the talking on the court, too.

The two, along with their teammates, were just finishing up a weightlifting session at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre  in St. John’s when they sat down to talk about the 2011-12 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season

Much of the conversation centred on how close the players are on and off the court, which is understandable considering five of the seven starters are products of Bishops College in St. John’s.

Forsey, Bursey, Angela Peddle, Chantel Jones and Julia Watts all graduated to MUN from Bishops and form the nucleus of a promising Sea-Hawks team that has its work cut out to make the playoffs after a 1-6 start to the AUS season.

MUN coach Bill Thistle offered thumbnail sketches of the five former Barons.

“Beth is one of our most dedicated athletes who has become an excellent setter this year,” he started. “Erin is a dynamo with intensity and focus through the roof. At five foot-five — she’ll argue she’s five-six — she’s the smallest player in her position (left side) in the country.

“Angela has been a project for a number of years and we’re seeing the results right now. She is one of the best middles in the league. She jumps out of the gym. Chantel (middle) is a fierce competitor, very skilled. Julia (libero) is a great defensive player. Her passing skills are absolutely fabulous and she controls the match when she’s on her game.

“They are used to each other. They anticipate each other on court, in particular through the middle. They know each other and that makes a big difference.

“They are not natural athletes. They made themselves athletes by hard work and determination.”

To have five of seven starters from one high school on a varsity team is very unusual, but maybe not when you consider each of them had Thistle as their high school coach.

When asked why Bishops produces so many good volleyballers, Bursey, who is from Weybridge, Random Island, didn’t hesitate.

“I think it’s just Bill,” she said, referring to Thistle, who coached at Bishops before taking the MUN post.

She didn’t doubt that playing together for so long has obviously helped.

“It’s really advantageous, especially for Chantel and Beth as it takes a lot of time to get used to each other at those positions. For them to have played together since Grade 8 is a big advantage. We’ve also played together on provincial teams,” Bursey added.

Thistle has the team in top-notch shape and the players work out on weights three times a week aside from their practices.

Bursey laughed when asked if she lifted weights in high school.

“If I was on a provincial team and they gave me a program over summer, I’d do it, but once I got back in school I wouldn’t do any,” she admitted.

“We love coming here (the provincial sports centre’s strength and conditioning room attached to the Swilers Rugby Complex), especially since we can see our progress…how much stronger we’re getting, how much higher we can jump.”

Forsey also credits Thistle for developing the Bishops players.

“He started coaching us in Grade 7. He kind of took us under his wing and by the end of Grade 12 we had the core players who are now at MUN.”

Forsey said the former Bishops players are so close, “I feel I can read some of their minds, for sure.

“Chantel and myself connect really well no matter where the ball is. I just like know where she is. The same with Julia. I know if she’s going to pass the ball a little bit on or off the net.

“It’s just awesome being able to play with them so long. They are just like family. We’re friends first and teammates second,” said Forsey.

Just how much Forsey was committed to this season with MUN was evident when she decided not to play soccer this past summer after competing with Molson FC the previous year.

“I didn’t tell her not to play soccer,”noted Thistle. “She wanted to get as fit as possible for her fifth year and I understand that because as players reach their final couple of years it becomes more and more important to them, I think.”

Forsey said she wanted to focus on volleyball and train really hard so to do that she couldn’t commit to soccer.

“It wasn’t so much because I was in my fifth year,” explained Forsey.

“When Bill came in, he totally changed the program and I wanted to be the best that I could,” she said.

“He’s been one of the biggest influences on my life.”

Memorial returns to action Friday and Saturday in St. John’s with a pair of matches against Cape Breton University which were postponed earlier this season when CBU was unable to travel to Newfoundland due to poor weather conditions in the Maritimes.

MUN follows that up with two more home matches Jan. 14-15 against University of New Brunswick.

The slow start is “very disappointing,” according to Thistle.

“There is an opportunity to recover. But we’ve still got to win. The teams we play  (in the second half of the season) are the teams we need to beat (to make the playoffs).”

Despite the sputtering start, it;’s obvious these young women enjoy each others company and have that often elusive thing called chemistry, even if it hasn’t translated into a playoff berth in recent years.

Bursey pointed out MUN had some injuries early in the season and she feels the team can turn it around.

“We’re really excited to play at home early in the new year.”

For her part, Forsey said the slow start has surprised her especially since the team did well at a pre-season invitational tournament. She put it down to an injury to Bursey.

“We had to use a couple of rookies to replace Erin. They did an amazing job, but, as rookies,” she said, “they were inexperienced and, really, no one can replace Erin. She’s a leader when it comes to attack and passing…just everything on the court.”

Forsey said she expects the Sea-Hawks to come back strong in the new year.

In fact, she believes they can play for the AUS title.

“This team is going to do it this year.”

Organizations: Bishops College, Atlantic University Sport, Sea-Hawks Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre Cape Breton University University of New Brunswick.The

Geographic location: Weybridge, Random Island, Newfoundland

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