AUS coaches say conference is getting stronger
By: Dwayne Tingley
Rick Scott has some formidable goals for his volleyball team, but the veteran coach of the Dalhousie Tigers isn't looking that far ahead.
The Tigers have won seven consecutive AUS women's volleyball championships and Scott believes he has the roster to make it eight, and then challenge for a national U SPORTS title.
Scott quickly puts an end to any conversation about gold medals, championships and historic title runs.
"We have to be prepared to play hard every day and not take anything for granted because the teams in our conference are getting better," said Scott, who is entering his 12th season at the helm of the Tigers.
"If you want to win, you have to be prepared to put in all the work, stay healthy, get some breaks and be on top of your game at all times," he added.
The Tigers, who finished first in the conference with an 18-2 record and beat the UNB Reds in the final, open their 2019-20 regular season on Friday, Oct. 25, when they visit the Saint Mary's Huskies.
On the same night, the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues host UNB. On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Huskies visit the Acadia Axewomen. Then on Oct. 27, the Reds host the Aigles Bleues and Tigers welcome the Axewomen.
The Tigers have eight players returning from last year's championship team, including setter Courtney Baker, who has been selected as the conference's most valuable player two years in a row.
"The goal every year is to win and that's what motivates our group," Scott said. "We are physically big and very athletic, but our players also work very hard. They want to keep winning and see how far they can go.
"They realize that nothing will come easily," the coach continued. "They are still hungry, and they still push themselves to get better."
The Tigers finished fourth at the U SPORTS championship tournament last year. They fell in five sets to Alberta in the bronze-medal match.
Christine Biggs, in her first season as head coach of the Reds, guided UNB to a 12-7 record last year before they fell to the powerhouse Tigers in the conference final.
"We are going to be trying to build on the success we had last year," said Biggs, a former standout player and assistant coach at the University of Alberta.
"For us to have a successful season, we will need contributions from the entire depth of our roster," she said. "This is a tough conference and it will take a lot of physical and tactical preparation from our players."
The Reds graduated just three players and there are 13 returning to the team this season. Some of the key members of the team are: Victoria Eadle, Catherine Burns and Paige Lehto.
"Our team is fortunate to have a strong group of leaders," Biggs said.
The Axewomen placed second in the regular season standings last year with a 14-6 record, but they were upset by the Reds in the conference semifinals.
"All of our process goals are ultimately in place to line our program up to win an AUS championship this season," said Michelle Wood, who is beginning her eighth season as head coach of the Axewomen.
"We are very open to the challenge," she added. "It's going to be a very competitive conference this year. With the addition of some young recruits and the leadership and experience of some of the veteran players, each team is going to be fighting to take home that AUS championship.
Meanwhile, the Huskies have 10 players returning from last year's team, which posted an 11-9 record and finished fourth in the regular season standings. Head coach Darren Russell is looking for a playoff berth and a better record this season.
"I really feel that the AUS conference is getting much stronger," said Russell, who has been head coach at Saint Mary's for 11 seasons and was an assistant coach for 10 years before that.
"Teams in our conference are competing and beating teams in many other conferences across the country consistently," he added. "In the AUS, any team can beat anyone on any given night. The team that shows up to play will always have a chance to win."
Key returning players for the Huskies are: Emilla Conlon, Jaime Rourke, Anna Watt, Bethany Smith, Renee Cleveland and Olivia Bell—last year's AUS rookie of the year.
"We will work extremely hard on defence, have a solid attack through the middle and serve tough," said Russell, who coached Nova Scotia's Canada Games team in 2009.
The Aigles Bleues, who have not captured a conference crown in 11 years, finished fifth last year with a 3-17 record. They have seven returning players and their roster features nine first or second-year players.
"We didn't have a lot of success on the scoreboard last year, but the girls worked really hard to continue their growth," said Monette Boudreau-Carroll, who has coached the Aigles Bleues for 21 seasons and has guided New Brunswick teams at four editions of the Canada Games.
"We have a young team, but we are getting more confident, and upping our competitiveness will definitely get us closer to our goal," the veteran coach continued.
"The AUS has become a very strong league. We have great coaches that continue to find ways to improve their teams and our league."
Key returnees at Moncton are: Pascale Doiron and Joanie Arsenault.
"With this young team," Boudreau-Carroll said, "they are hard-working, focused, determined and committed to make their mark on this league. I'm excited to go on this journey with them."
The Memorial Sea-Hawks finished last in the standings last year with a 1-18 record, but head coach John Slauenwhite is being patient with the team's rebuilding process.
"Last season was a building year for our team and program having all first and second-year athletes," said Slauenwhite, who has coached the Sea-Hawks for six years, which includes two trips to the conference final.
"This year, we are focused on building a strong base to help bring our team and program back to championship form," he said. "With that said, we have a goal to push for a playoff spot, but our success will be measured on process goals throughout the season."
The Sea-Hawks have 10 returning players, including third-year libero Katie Wagar, Claire Whiffen and Kaitlyn Kuchinka.
The Sea-Hawks open their regular season on Nov. 1, when they visit the Huskies in Halifax.