Vancouver Island University’s women’s volleyball team finished a perfect season with a perfect ending – well, as perfect as it could be amidst a virus pandemic.
The VIU Mariners won the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship for a third-straight year, completing an undefeated season with gold medals all around.
The Mariners defeated the Élans de Garneau in Saturday’s final in Quebec, 22-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-17, in front of an intimate family-members-only crowd. The final two games of the tournament were played in front of a gymnasium mostly emptied due to COVID-19 precautions.
“It truly was an eerie, weird feeling while we were there. The world was turned upside down,” said Shane Hyde, Mariners coach. “Once we got to the gym, it was our couple hours of escaping the real world. That’s kind of the way we viewed it. We took it as a privilege for us to be able to continue playing volleyball.”
The first day of the tourney, other sports were starting to get cancelled, and the team heard word that Mariners basketball teams weren’t going to get to play their national championships. Hyde said the M’s felt terrible for their fellow student-athletes, and couldn’t rest or relax at their hotel room without their phones buzzing about coronavirus and its impacts.
On the second day of competition, CCAA officials met to decide whether to proceed with the tournament. The Mariners, with that in mind, chose to forego a typical game-day practice and play a scrimmage, just in case it was their last volleyball of the season.
However, the matches went on, the M’s won their semifinal that night in an empty gym, and then won the next night’s final in front of a not-quite-so-empty gym as Garneau bent the family-members-only rule a little bit.
“We were getting pushed pretty hard by Garneau, the host team, and we battled and took our game to another level, made a few alterations to our lineup … I couldn’t ask for a better performance from our team,” Hyde said.
He credited Cégep de Garneau for how it handled the changes to the tournament and difficult decisions under tough circumstances. He said since the teams were already in Quebec and couldn’t really leave early, it was the right decision to carry on with the event.
“I guess time will tell to see if it was,” Hyde said. “But everybody did everything they could to keep it as safe as possible.”
Karoline Tormena, who made the championship-winning kill down the left side, finished with 13 kills and 13 digs in the final and was chosen tournament MVP. Jane Nyukhalova had 20 kills, Keira Christensen had 14 digs and Shelby Dorman-Banks had 43 assists.
On Friday, VIU won its national semifinal match, defeating the Fanshawe Falcons 25-17, 19-25, 25-14, 25-22. Danielle Groenendijk had 15 kills, Andrea Cankovic had 14, Tormena had 18 digs and Dorman-Banks dished 41 assists.
The tournament opener saw VIU handle the Lynx d’Edourd Montpetit in straight sets, 25-15, 25-18, 25-18. Tormena and Groenendijk had 10 kills each and Cankovic had four aces.
Amanda Dobbyn, Dorman-Banks and Cankovic were selected as first-team all-stars.
The three CCAA titles in a row make it four in five years for the VIU Mariners dynasty, but national championships are never a foregone conclusion. Even in a perfect 29-0 season there was adversity – ferry cancellations, snow cancellations, a bus breakdown, and then novel coronavirus.
“[I’m] super proud of these girls. What they’ve went through in terms of real world problems that they’re dealing with as a group and then playing through it and playing through this whole year, this stuff doesn’t just happen,” Hyde said. “We’ve been making it look easy, but it’s not easy by any means.”