It’s a new era for the York University Lions women’s volleyball team with a change in leadership at the top, and new head coach John May is focused on returning the squad to the upper echelons of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA).
May was hired this past summer and, after returning from Rio where he was coaching Canada’s beach volleyball duo of Kristina Valjas and Jamie Broder, went to work with the Lions. He was instantly impressed with how closely the student-athletes on the team worked together and believes that will be a strength for the team as they embark on the 2016-17 campaign.
“In taking on the responsibility of the team I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got here I couldn’t believe how awesome the camaraderie was amongst the players. They are a very close group of young women and they are really committed to working together to reach a common goal.”
The Lions come into this year looking to bounce back after missing out on the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. They finished fifth in the OUA East Division last year and will need to move into the top four to earn a berth. The division has a different look with the departure of York’s fiercest rival, the Ottawa Gee-Gees. In their place is a brand new Trent Excalibur squad that will provide a different challenge for its opponents.
The Lions return all but one player from last year’s lineup, and that familiarity and experience will go a long way in helping the team achieve its goals.
Fifth-year setter Kirsten Dillon will once again be called upon to lead the team. Twice in her career she has ranked among the OUA’s top five in assists per set and she has become a dependable player to run the offence.
Each of the team’s top five scorers from last year are all back, most notably team scoring leader and third-year outside hitter Celeste Witzell and sophomore outside hitter Sarah Williams. Witzell was the squad’s MVP last season after leading the Lions in points as well as kills, hitting percentage, blocks and service aces, while Williams earned a place on the OUA all-rookie team after a strong first year that included leading the Lions in kills per set and ranking second in digs per set.
Defensively, liberos Carley Flemmer and Sabah Kalim each provide a steady presence for the team and both ranked inside the OUA’s top 15 in digs per set last season. Flemmer is a fifth-year standout with plenty of experience, while Kalim is in just her second year and represents the future at the position.
The Lions will benefit from the return of left side Melissa Monkhouse, who last suited up for the Lions in 2013-14. She already has three years of experience in the OUA with the Lions and will round out the offence this season as she brings a dimension of power that the squad was missing before.
May didn’t have much time with the Lions before kicking off the season, but he saw enough to know that the talent is there to challenge for the top and he is encouraging his players to believe in what they are capable of.
“I am hoping to instill in them a sense of confidence and a sense of what’s possible. I am excited to be part of it,” he said. “Individually, right down to each athlete, we want to make sure that they understand their true potential and power, and help them discover it.
“I have high expectations for us this year. We are playing a sport at a high level so we are going into every match expecting to win. We want to establish a commitment to winning and striving to be our best. We are giving ourselves some time before we set concrete goals as we have to build a foundation in each individual first and establish that commitment to success.”