After a one-year hiatus from the OUA playoffs, women’s volleyball will be in a battle to return to the post-season.
Last season, the top five teams in the OUA all shifted to the newly created OUA East, leaving Queen’s the odd team out come playoff time. The Gaels went 10-9, finishing fifth in the highly competitive division.
Queen’s enters 2014-15 with a new head coach. Former bench boss Joely Christian-Macfarlane stepped down in April after seven seasons, eventually taking over the helm at RMC.
Ex-Alberta Pandas assistant Michael Ling was tabbed as her replacement and has taken over a squad with a mix of youth and experience.
“I have lots of options,” Ling said. “It’s nice to see that I do have options.”
Captain and 2012-13 OUA second-team All-Star Katie Hagarty is the sole returning fifth-year, while Shannon Hopkins and Emilie Normand are also veterans of the Gaels’ 2011-12 OUA championship squad.
Also back this year and expected to continue her strong play is third-year Brett Hagarty. A second-team OUA East All-Star last year, the younger Hagarty sister led the team with 302 digs and finished fifth in the league with 220 kills.
The team was hit by the departures of kills leader Kelsey Bishop and starting setter Shannon Walsh.
The Gaels will call on OUA East All-Rookie team member Gabrielle Down to step up in place of Walsh. Down averaged 6.49 assists per set last year, appearing in 11 games.
Ling’s first pre-season trip with the team took him to his old stomping grounds. The women faced five teams at the University of Regina Invitational in late September, including Ling’s former squad.
“I use that tournament as a bar setter, just to figure out where the Queen’s athletes fit in terms of where my experiences come from,” Ling said.
The women won three games before being shut out by Alberta and the Calgary Dinos.
“Calgary and Alberta brought us down to earth again,” Ling said. “There were valuable lessons that [we] learned from two of the top teams in the country.”
Queen’s 3-1 win over Regina midway through the tournament excited coach Ling.
“I felt Regina was probably our best outing out of all the three weekends in the pre-season,” he said. “It was gritty, it was motivated.”
The tournament was also an opportunity to shake off early fall jitters.
“For a first tournament, I think there was a lot of energy,” Ling said.
Two weeks later, the women traveled to Hamilton for the McMaster Thanksgiving Classic, where they beat the Guelph Gryphons and York Lions, but were blanked by the host Marauders.
The match against Guelph didn’t go smoothly, but the Gaels came out on top in five sets.
“We ended coming out really soft in the first two sets, and then slowly chipped away,” Ling said.
“That is a positive for us — a come-from-behind win.”
The Gaels kick off their season at home tonight when they host the Windsor Lancers, before taking on the Western Mustangs tomorrow at 6 p.m.
“They’re both very scrappy teams,” Ling said. “Our goal is to put together a good fight and to challenge these two teams and come away with a win.”
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