Rookie season

Women's volleyball team preview

Last season, the women’s volleyball team finished third in the OUA East and lost in the first round of the playoffs. But without veterans Katie Matthews, Colleen Ogilvie, Elyssa Heller and Lorna Button, it will be a rebuilding season in 2011-12.

Nine players from last season’s team have left the squad and head coach Joely Christian-MacFarlane has brought in 12 rookies to fill the gaps. Leftside hitter Becky Billings is the team’s only fourth-year player.

The Gaels will look for leadership from Billings, libero Shannon Walsh and setter Anna Pedjase. All three are first-time starters at their respective positions, so Christian-Macfarlane will need younger players to contribute immediately. Rookies Shannon Hopkins, Aleesha Rong and Alexandra Heine are expected to contribute immediately.

Christian-Macfarlane said she’s been impressed by her younger players’ improvement rate through the pre-season. But she said she expects them to have some early-season struggles as rookies adjust to the fast and physical OUA.

There have already been growing pains — the Gaels lost five straight games at the University of Montreal Invitational last month. They dropped three of five at the University of Ottawa Invitational.

Christian-Mcfarlane said the team’s goal is to improve every game and to challenge for a playoff spot. They’ll definitely improve over the season — but a playoff berth is out of reach.

Coach

This is Christian-MacFarlane’s fifth season as the team’s head coach. This summer, she was an assistant coach with the women’s International University Sport Federation (FISU) team.

Key player

Billings is the team’s oldest and most experienced player. Originally a libero, she’s quickly improving at leftside hitter.

Can’t-miss games

Feb. 4 to 5 vs Western Mustangs and Windsor Lancers: If the Gaels are going to have a shot at the playoffs this season, it will come down to the last weekend of the season.

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