VIU Mariners player Andrea Cankovic at last year’s nationals in Welland, Ont. (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association photo)

VIU Mariners player Andrea Cankovic at last year’s nationals in Welland, Ont. (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association photo)

Captain says nothing beats VIU volleyball program

Graduating player Andrea Cankovic has three national titles and isn’t quite done yet

She came a long way to be part of Canada’s top collegiate volleyball program, and she has a chance to leave VIU as the most-decorated Mariners athlete ever.

Andrea Cankovic, captain of the women’s volleyball team, played her final home match in the Vancouver Island University gym tonight, Feb. 15, and leads the M’s into provincials in New Westminster from Feb. 20-22.

Cankovic, from Croatia, came to VIU’s attention when the athletics department was recruiting her then-boyfriend for the men’s volleyball team, recalled Shane Hyde, Mariners coach. The M’s were told Cankovic was a really good volleyball player, too.

From the start, Cankovic was a dynamic, intense player, and over her five-year career she has become a leader in different ways, by demanding excellence from teammates and at the same time being a practical joker and social convenor off the court.

Her versatile game has complemented a range of players she’s shared the court with over the years. This year, she’s seventh in the PacWest in blocks and second in aces.

“She’s one of our primary passers, she’s such a good, solid serve-receiver defender, offensively she is rock solid from a lot of different positions,” Hyde said. “And then … she can go back and crush off five thunderous jump serves and we can go from maybe trailing two points to being up by three points by the end of her serving.”

Cankovic has been part of national-championship-winning teams three out of her four years at VIU, tying her with former teammate Chantal Cumming as the most-decorated VIU athlete ever. Each of those national championship seasons has had a different path, and this year was no different, Cankovic said.

“I think we struggled a little bit in the beginning of the season, because a lot of people left from last year that have been very important to the team,” she said. “But finally we found each other and we’ve found a real team spirit for this year. So it’s super exciting to go into the last stretch knowing that.”

The term “struggled” is relative, as the Mariners were undefeated going into their last two matches, with a road game in Victoria on Friday night after press time. No matter the competition, the M’s have remained focused on their own game, Cankovic said, and on getting better.

“We’ve been preparing the entire season just for one game at provincials that decides if we’re going to go to nationals or not,” she said. “So every game leading up to that is just lessons that we learn on the way.”

The geoscience major isn’t sure what will come after graduation, as she hopes to stay in Canada but will need a work visa. Probably, these upcoming playoffs are Cankovic’s last matches of competitive volleyball.

“Honestly, I was thinking about it … I don’t think you go any better than VIU,” she said. “Maybe we aren’t the highest league, even in Canada, but what we do at VIU, I don’t think there’s anything else like that in the country.”

RELATED: VIU Mariners women closing in on an unbeaten season

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter