Granted, it might not seem like a big deal. It is just a mention, after all, honourable as it may be.
However, for a Memorial Sea-Hawks women’s volleyball team starting a new season without some of its biggest recent contributors, the little bit of recognition might amount to a big boost.
Every week, U Sports — the umbrella body for Canadian university varsity athletics — unveils its school rankings for each sport. And while Memorial didn’t make any of the top 10 in the latest release, the Sea-Hawks did get enough votes from a nation-wide poll of coaches to garner an honourable mention in the post-script at the bottom of the women’s volleyball rankings.
Some might not make much of this — especially just a week into the regular-season — but Memorial head coach John Slauenwhite felt it was important to draw attention to the recognition and brought up the rankings to his team in the first practice after the U Sports rankings came out Tuesday.
For one thing, it offered some support for Slauenwhite’s strong contention that his team remains a contender despite significant off-season personnel losses.
Not to suggest the current players suffered from any lack of self-confidence, but they could be forgiven for looking around a locker room that was missing three starters from 2016-17 — first team AUS all-stars Jill Snow and Maiya Westwood, along with blocking wiz Lanya Levorson — as well as super digger Kassandra Menzies, a second-team all-star, and wondering exactly what was in store this time around.
Slauenwhite also says it’s a little pay-off for a player like Alison Poynter, who has moved into the starting lineup in her fourth season, taking over Westwood’s job as chief setter. The coach says she’s just one of a number of third and fourth-year players who have patiently “worked extremely hard in preparation for the opportunity to take on bigger roles.”
Or first-year Emma Hackett of Clarenville, one of five rookies on the team, and who was a starter in the Sea-Hawks’ sweep of the Universite de Moncton last weekend at the Field House in St. John’s.
Or California Braxton Fenter, who has returned to the starting lineup after being sidelined as a red-shirt for the entire 2016-17 season.
Or Manitoban Kier Fey, who is an unquestioned talent — she was the 2015-16 AUS rookie of the year and a two-time all-star — but now has the key role of outside hitter, the position previously held by Snow, the two-time conference MVP.
And as Slauenwhite notes, it’s “just nice” to receive a little attention. Especially for a school on the far fringe of the U Sports map.
Mind you, this is all based on a small regular-season sample; the pair of 3-1 match wins over Moncton constituted Memorial’s first action of the AUS campaign. But it’s likely the U Sports voters took note of more than those decisive results.
Just over five weeks ago, the Sea-Hawks finished fourth in GeeGees Pre-Season Classic, hosted by the University of Ottawa, losing to AUS rival Dalhousie in the bronze-medal game. And while Memorial finished with an overall 2-3 record in the tourney, the losses came to teams currently in the U Sports top 10 — top-ranked Montreal, No. 3 Dalhousie and No. 9 McGill.
The balloting that led to the latest rankings say Memorial is the nation’s 13th-ranked team, and second in the AUS behind Dal (no other team in the conference received any votes).
But as happy as Slauenwhite is with the U Sports findings, he is far from satisfied. He’s convinced — just as he was last year — that the Sea-Hawks are a top 10 team and deserve more than just a mention.
The next chance for Memorial to offer such proof to the voters won’t come until later this month. The Sea-Hawks don’t play this weekend, but will be busy from Nov. 16 to 19, playing five matches in four days in the AUS league tournament in Moncton. What’s more, it will be the last chance to make an impression for a while. The conference then enters its exams/Christmas break, with a return to action in early January.
Memorial's women's swim team recognized, too
The Memorial women volleyballers weren’t the only Sea-Hawks varsity team to get an honourable mention in the latest U Sports rankings. MUN’s women’s swim team picked up 29 votes in coaches balloting, 15th most in the country.