There has been a changing of the guard in Western volleyball over the past two seasons. The women have taken over the position as the top team on campus from the men after a third-place finish in Ontario University Athletics last season and a 7-2 start to the season.
This was showcased on the weekend when the women cruised to two easy victories and the men suffered two more losses to continue their slump.
On the women's side, head coach Melissa Bartlett outlined the distinct advantage they have over the other teams in the OUA.
“Definitely one of our strengths is the depth that we have over some other teams," said Bartlett. "A lot of the teams that we play have six or seven players who see the court and right now we have 10 to 12 girls that are in a solid court rotation.”
Despite their numbers, Bartlett noted the team has still had to overcome some early season challenges.
“Due to injury we have only had one setter the entire season,” said Bartlett. “So she [Katherine Tsiofas] has played every single point of every single match since October. That’s very tough physically and mentally. She has handled that challenge really well.”
Western's men's coach, Jim Sage, noted how injuries have affected his team as well — specifically, the recent injury to outside hitter Zeid Hamadeh has hampered the team. Hamadeh recently broke the small finger on his hitting hand and missed both of the games on the weekend.
The absence of Hamadeh was not a factor on Friday night as the Mustangs played well in a four-set loss against Ryerson, one of the best teams in the OUA. Western won one of the sets and two others were very close.
"That was the first set we had won in quite a while," said co-captain Mike Choja in reference to Friday's game. "It gave us a confidence boost to know we could hang with teams like that."
However, the confidence from the Ryerson game did not last very long.
"We had a crazy battle with Ryerson and then carried an almost hangover-low energy into the match versus Toronto the next night," said Western's other co-captain Doug Austrom.
In the midst of a five-game losing streak it has been difficult to pinpoint what the team needs to improve on. Sage commented that the early-season top 10 ranking in Canadian Interuniversity Sport may have affected the team.
"It might have been a little bit of false sense of confidence,” said Sage. “It really gears up other teams to come at you hard when they know you’ve been ranked earlier.”
Both teams will have a break from volleyball in December. Neither team will play again until January. This gives both of them some time to rest and step away from the game.
When they return to the court in January, both teams are looking forward to their long stretch of home games at Alumni Hall.
“The support so far from the student body has been great,” said Bartlett. “We’ve had more fans out in the last couple matches then we have in the last couple years.”
Both teams will resume their season with matches against the Waterloo Warriors on Jan. 16 at Alumni Hall.