The University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s volleyball team will soon square off against some of the toughest opponents in the Canada West conference.
The Trinity Western Spartans will visit the Duckworth Centre on Oct. 27 and 28, and the Wesmen will host the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Nov. 3 and 4.
Third-year Wesmen libero Taylor Cangemi says she and her teammates feel a mix of nervousness and confidence about the upcoming home games.
Seven members of this year’s Wesmen roster are freshmen, and only three returning players – Cangemi, setter Portia Switzer and left-side Selva Planincic – have experience as part of a U Sports starting lineup.
“We’re seen as the underdogs yet again this year,” Cangemi says, “but I think that’s a really great opportunity to go out and just play how we can and prove people wrong as we go.”
Both the Spartans and Thunderbirds mounted formidable performances in the 2022-23 season. The two teams ultimately faced off in the 2023 U Sports gold-medal game in Vancouver. The seventh-seed Thunderbirds upset the top-ranked Spartans to claim the championship title.
There’s “no better way to evaluate your level of playing and what you need to work on than playing the best teams, so we’re looking forward to those challenges,” Wesmen head coach Phil Hudson says.
Returning players like Switzer, the team’s captain, have stepped up to help mentor this year’s younger lineup through a “steep learning curve,” Hudson says.
Much of the Wesmen squad’s training has focused on acclimatizing the new players to faster, more complex games than they played at the high-school level.
“When your own team has the ball, it’s as simple as you can get just trying to isolate your attackers on the blockers,” Hudson says. “But playing defense, the ball is coming away faster than before, and the serves are way stronger, and there’s no free balls coming over.”
The team is also working to teach new players Hudson’s defensive system.
“Most teams kind of teach you an X and O type defense where you just stand in this spot when this is happening,” Cangemi says, “whereas Phil has a defensive philosophy of giving us the freedom to make decisions based on what is going on in the game or in the play in front of us.”
Switzer says strong defensive play can help a team feel more in control when they’re facing opposing teams with taller and more experienced players.
“It’s a great confidence booster when you do end up succeeding on defense and getting those digs against big hits that can really change momentum,” she says.
She says spectators who pay attention to smaller details like side conversations and substitutions during the games will be rewarded with a greater appreciation for the team’s more subtle strengths: finesse and strategic play.
Hudson says the team is looking forward to putting on a show for their home crowd.
“We’re going to be very entertaining. We’re going to work hard, and they’re going to notice some very motivated and very disciplined and focused athletes representing the university,” he says.
“It’ll be a tough game” against Trinity Western, Switzer says. “It’ll be a fun game … they’re really good. They’re not unbeatable.”
All Wesmen women’s volleyball home games take place in pairs, scheduled for Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:45 p.m throughout the season. Find the full schedule at bit.ly/45FWBva.
Published in Volume 78, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 26, 2023)