The Western Mustangs women's volleyball team kicked off their season this past weekend. For a team that has legitimate hopes of bringing a national title back to London in the spring, the 2017-18 campaign is about building for March.
Through the first two matches of the year, it's been "so far, so good" for the Mustangs. After beating the Guelph Gryphons in straight sets in their season opener on Friday Oct. 27, Western followed up with a 3–1 win over the Waterloo Warriors. The perfect start was expected for one of the nation's top squads.
According to head coach Melissa Bartlett, the Mustangs weren't perfect in their opening weekend. But she'll take the 2–0 start.
"There were times this past weekend when some nerves showed through — but for the most part, we were in control," said Bartlett. "In six of the seven sets we played, we dictated the score start to finish. To win two matches on the road against two West Division opponents is also a great way to start our Ontario University Athletics season."
The key to success for the Mustangs this season is their experience. The team is returning five starters. Fourth-year libero Courtney Sestric, fifth-year setter Kat Tsofias, fourth-year right side Aja Gyimah and second-year left side Melissa Langegger will all be pivotal veterans for the Mustangs.
But the game-changer will be Kelsey Veltman, the fourth-year middle and two-time All-Canadian who represented Canada at the Summer Universiade in Taiwan this past August.
Veltman is one of the nation's elite players, an overpowering threat on the court responsible for 34 points through the first two games of the season.
For Bartlett, it's the veteran depth on her team that will be pivotal in how far the Mustangs can go.
"I believe we will be tough to plan for because we have so many different options that we can rely on to score points, and that is a really fun position to be in as a coaching staff," said Bartlett.
The road to a national title is long and arduous. Bartlett, who lead the Mustangs to an OUA bronze medal last year, knows that where the team is now won't be where the team will be in March. Constant improvement will be crucial for a national championship.
"We played a challenging preseason schedule and did not see the level of success we are accustomed to over the last few years," said Bartlett. "I believe that has kept us motivated to continue improving, and that is exactly what we want out of this team as coaches. We have a lot of talent and experiencem and we want them to constantly strive to be better."
The Mustangs have a break until their next game on Nov. 11: a home opener against the Brock Badgers. With a relatively easy schedule to kick off the season, the Mustangs could very well be undefeated heading into the second semester when they face the Ryerson Rams for the first time. This team has time to develop before January rolls around and the OUA heavyweights come up on the calendar.
Championships aren't won after the first week of the season, but this Mustangs team has all the elements of a national contender. They have veteran leadership, talent depth and a dominant force in Kelsey Veltman. The team has all the makings of a champion.