There are a couple of keys that will unlock the door to an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) women's volleyball championship for Memorial Sea-Hawks, according to coach Bill Thistle.
Fifth-seed Memorial takes on fourth-seed University of Moncton Blue Eagles (UdeM) in quarter-final play five o'clock tonight at Dalhousie University. The Game 2 quarter-final features third-seed UNB Varsity Reds and sixth-seed Acadia Axewomen.
Memorial finished 6-10 overall this past season including 6-6 in AUS conference play.
"We've beaten playoff teams UdeM, Acadia and UNB and have had close matches with Saint Mary's and Dalhousie in their gyms," noted Thistle.
"I believe we can win this year," said Thistle. "We are not favorites, but we've played very well for extended periods. If we can get that effort and focus we'll surprise a lot of teams this weekend."
He said the first key to a Sea-Hawks win is to pass well off serve.
"This will allow us to run our fast attack. Our attack is the quickest in the league and we have added some new wrinkles with crossing patterns and changes of pace that give us some little advantages," explained Thistle.
The second key, he said, is for his players to "serve tough."
Thistle said Kirsten Sorensen is one of the best servers with 30 aces and Jill Snow, Lauren Miller and Sam March are very tough as well. He admitted UdeM are one of the top serving teams in the league, so that will be a challenge for his passers.
The MUN coach isn't underestimating his first opposition on the road to challenging for a championship.
"We have a very difficult match-up against UdeM," said Thistle.
"They are a strong defensive team with great skill and passion. We beat them last year in the playoffs in a close five-match set and this year's match will be just as difficult. Moncton are not a big team, but they're skilled and well coached. I don't think either team has a big edge. We may be better blocking, but they may be better defensively."
Still, Thistle believes this year's version of the Sea-Hawks is better than last year's, in particular on the left side and through the set position and libero.
"However," he added, "we have very little depth other than at setter and right side."
The Sea-Hawks bring a very balanced attack to the court with a different attacker leading us each match.
Angela Peddle had 130 kills, Sam March 121, Jill Snow 109, Adrienne Penney 73, Lauren Miller 62 and setter Kirsten Sorensen with 41.
This should make it very difficult for the opposition to predict and defend, the coach figures.
"We'll be looking for Kirsten to manage the game and use the speed of our attack to set up one on one scenarios for our attackers. However she has to receive the ball in the spots on the course that will give us success."
If the Sea-Hawks gets past UdeM they'll have to face first-place Dalhousie (10-4), the defending champions, in the semifinal Saturday.
"They are big and so deep that three starters from last year's AUS champions are bench players this year," noted Thistle.
"We have to serve aggressively, attack fast and hard and set strong tight blocks if we are to get by Dal. They are playing well and are on an eight-match win streak."
The final goes 2 p.m. Sunday.