Royals women’s volleyball looking high and mighty
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
To say that the Royals women’s volleyball team is doing well would be an understatement. The squad is having one of the best years in the program’s history, and they are on pace to finish in the top three in the PACWEST. The difference between this year’s squad and last year’s is vast. But one of the biggest differences to the team may not even be on the court.
When head coach Jeff Ross joined the squad in early August, the players and the program were hungry for success. After a fourth place finish in the standings last year and a tough first round exit, the team came back more determined than ever. Under Ross’ guidance, the team has had an amazing start to the year which included a 3–0 win over Camosun, and a huge 3–1 victory over the VIU Mariners.
Coming off of their bye-week, the squad sits second in the PACWEST with a record of 12–4. They only trail the VIU Mariners, who lead the league with a record of 13–3. When asked about his team’s success this season, Coach Ross put plenty of credit in the system that he has established. “I think the team has grown a lot. They’ve adapted to new things that I’ve brought in, and we just keep competing and slowly improving day by day. We try to develop people here. We try to develop their skills. The results are nice but it’s not something we’re gunning for.”
As dominant as the team has been as a squad, there has been one player in particular who has really led it. For Coach Ross, that player is their captain, Juliana Penner. “She’s a leader, and given the number of years she’s been playing, it’s a given she would be that impactful.” Alongside the captain, Ross also named his setters as a key point in their squad. “On the other standpoint, both of our setters, Abby (Mitro), and Jane (Kepler), have been a huge impact this year. They’ve improved a ton since August, and they just keep getting better.” With both Mitro and Kepler being rookies, their skill and ability to coordinate the Royals’ many attacking options has been impressive indeed.
But Jeff didn’t stop there. He credited the entirety of the team for their overall success. “I think we’re a talented group and the personnel there, all 15 girls, are quite solid. Our bench has good depth. They’ve surprised me when they’ve come on and they do a really good job of taking care of business when they get a chance.” With a roster as loaded as theirs, the Royals’ ability to bring on multiple threats from all over the court has been a huge advantage for them. Opposition coaches’ inability to have their team adapt has seen many teams fall under the Royals’ vicious attack.
But as skilled as the team has been up until now, they have not been undefeated. The squad has definitely been humbled a couple of times this season. However, for Coach Ross, the losses the team has taken have benefited them. “Those four losses just taught us what we need to do, and where we need to get better, and how we need to tackle things moving forward. It was really just a learning experience. I mean, a loss is a loss; it’s about how you recover and what you learn from it. We’re just trying to get that one per cent better every day. We slowly want to build up towards provincials at VIU.”
Speaking of provincials, although the team looks like a top three, even top two team, they’re going to have to be the best team in the PACWEST if they want to go to Nationals. Since the Camosun Chargers are the hosts of the National Championships, the PACWEST loses their wildcard spot at Nationals. This means that the teams that go to Nationals are the Camosun Chargers, and the winner of the PACWEST. With that in mind, Ross knows that he needs to send the team into preparation mode to get the squad ready for that challenge that lays ahead. “I have a deadline for when I’m going to kind of lock it down and go into playoff mode. Right now we’re still using our depth and still using our players. And I mean, you never know, come playoff time, it it’s been working really well and it continues to work, there’s a chance for a lot of players to see the court.”
Obviously, finishing as high as the team can in the regular season is going to be the goal. But realistically, a top two finish is the real target, because that guarantees a first-round bye. After that, anything goes. However, Coach Ross isn’t afraid of anyone the Royals may run into come playoffs. “For me, whatever team comes our way, we’ll do the best we can, and compete as hard as we can. Regardless of who’s out there. There’s no one team I don’t want to play. The better of a team we play, the better we get, and it gives us more of a chance to show our skill.”
A confident statement from the coach, and one undoubtedly backed by his team. However, as a fan, I’m hoping the Royals stay far away from the VIU Mariners come playoffs. At least until the finals.