It will be an opening-night home game like no other, and everyone knows it.
If playing the eighth-ranked team in the country wasn’t enough pressure, the Memorial Sea-Hawks women’s volleyball team will have to begin their home schedule Saturday night with the lingering memory of losing their much-loved captain.
There will be a minute of silence tonight at the Field House to honour Erin Bursey, who died in June following a pedestrian-vehicle accident in St. John's.
“We have to honor Erin, but I hope it doesn't cause too much grief for our athletes as we have to play right after against one of the best teams in the country,” said MUN coach Bill Thistle.
The season is dedicated to Bursey, whose No. 11 is stitched on the back of the MUN players’ jerseys.
Thistle said he hopes the players will be able to deal with opening night under the circumstances. He expects it will be an emotional opening.
“I hope we’ll be fine once the competition starts,” he said.
Game time is six o’clock this evening and 11 a.m. Sunday.
“We have many new athletes, if you include our red shirts, so the biggest issue is getting comfortable with each other and finding an identity,” said Thistle.
“We can never replace Erin, and we feel she is still with us.”
According to Thistle, the entire university volleyball community has been supportive.
“We’ve seen great examples of sportsmanship and kindness from Dal and the University of New Brunswick during our visits to their home arenas,” Thistle said.
“Both teams recognized Erin and presented cheques for her scholarship fund. This was athlete-driven and it just goes to show the character of the athletes playing CIS level volleyball.”
The AUS women’s volleyball student-athlete community service award has been renamed in honour of Bursey.
As far as the AUS competition is concerned, Thistle believes Dal (4-2) is the team to beat this season. MUN opened the season with a pair of wins against UNB in Fredericton.
“We are really looking forward to facing Dal this weekend,” said Thistle.
“They are big and strong, well coached, very talented and have the experience to go a long way this year.”
The Tigers have a distinct height advantage over MUN with primarily six-foot-plus starters, while the Sea-Hawks have four, 5-7 starter.
“Our room for error is much smaller than theirs, so we will have to play with quite a bit of poise to be successful.”
Thistle said he’s set a goal to get back into a top-10 CIS ranking.
“Dal are one of the best teams in the country and next weekend we play Laval, Montreal and Sherbrooke who are all ranked in the top 10 CIS schools, as well as a strong McGill team that won last year’s CIS bronze medal.
“The question that will be answered is: are we a top 10 team, or are we still a ways away from reaching that status?”
MUN’s starting lineup will include Sam March at the set position, Angela Peddle and Chantel Jones in the middle, Lauren Miller at right side, Laura Carmanico at one leftside position and Samantha Jubinville-Mah at libero.
The other leftside will be likely shared by Krista Hogan and first years Jill Snow and Tiffany Cooper, Thistle said.
The Sea-Hawks’ mentor, meanwhile, feels the home fans can play a big roll with their support, especially this weekend.
“We play so much on the road that it's a privilege to play in front of our home fans,” he said.
“We are really excited and home court will be worth a few points, absolutely.”
Thistle is on record as believing his team, which finished 7-10 and fifth place last season, is a genuine AUS title contender this time around.
The matches against Dal this weekend may go a long way in determining if the Lady Hawks are on the right track or not.
In the meantime, Memorial men’s volleyball team (0-5) plays Dalhousie (2-3) eight o’clock tonight and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Field House.