The last thing Memorial Sea-Hawks women’s volleyball coach Bill Thistle wants to do is add to the pressure that’s on his team heading into the 2012-13 Atlantic universities season.
His players will obviously want to win the AUS title for fallen teammate Erin Bursey, but Thistle will only say the Sea-Hawks has been building to a championship and it wouldn’t surprise him if it came this season.
According to Thistle, the team is doing “very well” since their team captain died from injuries suffered in a vehicle-pedestrian collision last month in St. John’s.
“We talked about Erin and what she meant to us and the Sea-Hawks program,” said Thistle about the team’s first get-together since the tragedy.
“We talked about the grieving process and our feelings. We reminded ourselves of our goals for this year, which is to win the AUS.”
But, he said, he isn’t adding any psychological weight for his team to carry.
“We have not set a goal to win for Erin, but to have her with us when we win,” explained Thistle. “Our focus is on specific process goals such as passing technique and not the outcome goals such as an AUS championship.
“We believe if we execute on our process goals, then success will come to us. If we focused on winning for Erin, we will have the wrong focus.”
“We’ve been growing each year as a team and feel our next step is an AUS championship. This was our goal before Erin’s tragedy and remains our goal today.”
The veteran MUN mentor said no one will ever forget Bursey and what she meant to the team. Now it is time for the players to move on and just appreciate what they have.
The players have dealt with the loss, and while there is obviously some lingering sadness, they now feel they will be stronger people as the team focuses on the future.
Chantel Jones and Angela Peddle were two of four Sea-Hawk players working out at the MUN gym earlier this week. They know the spotlight on the team may be a little brighter within the local sports community this time around.
Both Jones, who led her team in points (3.24 ppg.), and Peddle, who led the team in blocks (1.05 per game), said the team has drawn even closer together since the accident.
“As a group, we’ve been together every day,” said Jones. “It’s helped a lot. We feel even closer.”
“For sure,” added Peddle, who said the players have always been close friends on and off the court.
Asked if there is any extra pressure to win a championship for Bursey and, if wanting it too much could work against the team in some way, Jones said she’s thought about that, “but it’s always been the team’s goal to win the title this year anyway.”
“I think it will end up being an extra incentive to help our drive more than anything that might hinder us,” noted Peddle.
“Our goal was to be a championship contender since last year, and it’s still our goal,” said Peddle.
While they are anticipating a great season, both players said they are glad the season-opener is still months away.
“We still need the time to get used to Erin not being on the court with us,” said Jones.
There are also a couple of lineup changes this season with two newcomers joining the squad.
One of the new Sea-Hawks is Laura Carmanico from Ottawa who was also working out Tuesday night.
Carmanico joined the team in May and coach Thistle said Bursey liked her so much she agreed to switch to the libero position so that Carmanico would play leftside hitter which she played at the University of Ottawa and thus give the team the best chance to succeed.
“Laura has been a rock through this entire ordeal and was there at our camps every day, teaching the young kids and just being there for the others,” said Thistle.
While the Lady Hawks volleyball team is extremely close and even moreso since the tragedy, both Jones and Peddle said Carmanico fit in really well right from the start.
“It’s like she’s been on the team forever,” said Jones, and Peddle nodded her head in agreement.
“She’s competitive, she’s fierce, she’s good and she’s nice, so what more could you want?” noted Peddle.
“She’s only five-foot-eight, but she was one of the best players in the OUA last season,” said Thistle of Carmanico.
Thistle said Carmanico, who transferred into MUN’s graduate program in marine biology, is a very strong athlete who believes in strength training and fitness.
“She’s working with our strength and conditioning coach Jerome Brennan and she’s also working on her technical skills,” he said.
She is rated as a very strong defensive and offensive player who plays and comes up big in crucial games.
Thistle pointed out she was the player of the game for Ottawa in the OUA Championship game last February.
“Her maturity is rather remarkable and she will be one of our key players for the next two years,” said Thistle.
Carmanico said coming to MUN early enabled her to meet Erin and she was impressed, especially because Bursey was willing to switch positions for the overall benefit of the team.
“I don’t fell like I will ever be able to take her place because she was such and inspiring player,” said Carmanico, “but I’m going to do my best to try and fill her shoes, though I don’t think anyone will ever take her place.
“Obvious it’s going to be tough without her. She was the captain, but the way the girls are training and getting better every day…it’s inspiring.”
Carmanico, whose boyfriend, quarterback Brad Sinopoli, was recently recalled by the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders this week, says the fact that Memorial is playing host to the Atlantic University Sport championships this season is a bonus.
“The girls are great. They’ve all got a great sense of humour and they are really motivated which is how I am — ready to win.”