By Christie Melhorn, November 9 2017 —
The Dinos women’s volleyball team has experienced a few sharp turns so far in their 2017–18 season. They suffered a series of tight losses to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the non-conference season opener. However, the Dinos recovered impressively fast, sweeping the MacEwan tournament and West Coast Classic and extending their wins into the start of the Canada West season.
Their current roster is mostly comprised of veteran players. Head coach Natalie Gurnsey says she is overwhelmed with pride by their growth since joining the team.
“There is a core group of players who have been together four to five years and went through some hard lumps,” she said. “I feel like a proud mom. Conversations are being had and skills are being performed where I go, ‘Oh my gosh. For four or five years I’ve been trying to get you to do this and now you’re just doing it naturally without my guidance.’ I’m so impressed to see them mature into these amazing women.”
Gurnsey says the extended period of time the players have shared is advantageous and helped shape their cohesiveness.
“We’re pretty motivated and hungry. We’re veteran and really looking forward to doing some big things this year,” Gurnsey said.
Many of the players learned to handle the pressure and strain of student-athlete life as first-years together. Gurnsey emphasizes that cultivating a sense of trust on the team has been an intense but necessary process.
“It takes so much time to develop [trust]. There’s the element of self-trust and then trusting the person beside you,” she said. “I’ve been with this group for a really long time. A bunch of them started together as rookies against really good players in Can West. We’ve spent a lot of time forcing ourselves to make changes and potentially failing — that’s the best thing for development and to be able compete at this level.”
Gurnsey emphasizes that celebrating and embracing failure is vital to the team’s development.
“We’ve talked for literally four years about getting out of your comfort zone and doing things to make yourself better,” Gurnsey said. “It’s become a part of our culture. When they see a teammate take a risk and fail, they celebrate it instead of looking down on them — and that develops that trust. It’s been cool to see that happen.”
Gurnsey says building the team’s physical strength has also been extensive but rewarding.
“It took a lot of time to get physically stronger. We went from being weak young rookies to being known across the country as a very physical team,” Gurnsey said. “There’s so many weapons on the court. We’re a really strong blocking team and offensive team. Most teams have two or three hitters who are really good. But I’d say at any given time, all five hitters on the court are a serious offensive threat.”
While the Dinos have grown into a close and forceful team, Gurnsey remains practical is saying that the learning process never stops. But she trusts her team’s ability to take authority on the court and play with intention.
“It’s a work in progress as always. They’re still learning about each other and what they need but they’re very motivated,” Gurnsey said. “I say in practice, ‘I train you and that’s where I can influence change but in a match you’re the ones who motivate each other and make plays happen and be in control of resetting.’ It’s an expectation of mine and they do a really good job of it.”
Gurnsey’s value of honouring success and failure is particularly relevant, as the Dinos endured three hard losses to the UBC Thunderbirds this past weekend. However, the team has the drive to dust themselves off. Their next game is on Friday, Nov. 10 against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen at 5 p.m. in Winnipeg.