‘What’s next?’: Brock women’s volleyball team’s rapid rise as a national contender

By admin Nov29,2023

When Brock women’s volleyball head coach Steve Delaney took over the job in the summer of 2018 there didn’t appear to be much immediate hope for optimism.

The Badgers had been mired in a three-season playoff drought with a combined 13-44 record, and its deepest playoff run was bowing out in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) semifinals, which happened most recently in the 1990-91 season.

Despite entering the position with little chance to shape the 2018-19 roster, Delaney felt confident in his team’s ability to make an immediate impact.

“In the summer … I just stopped the practice, sat everyone down, and said, ‘I don’t know what has been happening here, but this is not a last place team. I can just tell you by the talent we have in the gym,'” said Delaney. “And I kind of opened some eyes by saying that.

“In one of our first meetings, I said, ‘We’re making the playoffs this year. I don’t care if we were last [last year].”

While Delaney was able to motivate his group, he also keyed in on a number of tactical changes to set his team up for success.

The first thing Delaney did was to shut down the team’s spike service, which he saw leading to too many errors in the 2017-18 season. Delaney estimates that the tactical adjustment gave the 2018-19 team an additional 99 points at the end of the year.

He also wanted to give athletes more leeway in attacking so he could see what shots they were capable of hitting — as well as the athletes themselves learning what they were capable of — then dialled that back at the end of the year once he identified which athletes were capable of hitting certain shots.

The results in Delaney’s first year were a 13-6 record — mirroring the 2017-18 record of 6-13 — and a quarterfinal playoff exit against eventual provincial champion University of Toronto.

Building on early success

Despite the initial success, the believability in the Brock program may not necessarily have been widespread entering Delaney’s first year of recruiting.

One recruit that had no problem buying in was current fourth-year star libero Aleiah Torres, who Delaney coached with the Halton Region Hurricanes, with both winning provincial and national titles during their time there.

Torres was so convinced of the trajectory of the Brock program that she played a role in recruiting fellow 2018-19 Hurricane Gigi Markotic, who Delaney had not coached himself.

“When I played for Steve [in Halton] he was all about culture and having a winning mentality,” Torres said. “I just loved how he set goals at the beginning of the season … and I feel like setting those goals really makes you work towards something and you have to back up your goals with your actions. 

“He also has this ‘we for me’ mentality … and that basically means just putting the team before your own needs.”

Aleiah Torres (8) high-fives head coach Steve Delaney, right, and subs out as Grace Pyatt (11) comes onto the court. As a libero, Torres frequently subs in and out of the match, but she was doing this even more in her freshman year while splitting duties with fourth-year Alanna Norris. (Stephen Leithwood/Brock Sports)

Torres experienced this first-hand in her freshman season at Brock, splitting libero duties with Alanna Norris. She credits the fourth-year for helping her out with her serve receive game, while Torres was able to make an immediate impact defensively, finishing 15th in the OUA in digs and making the OUA all-rookie team.

‘What’s next?’

The team’s success was even more pronounced with the Badgers placing in the top 10 in U Sports rankings for the first time in program history, and making its deepest ever playoff run, losing to the University of Toronto in the Quigley Cup final.

“I think some of the girls were surprised [at the success],” Torres said. “But for me coming from a background of teams that win a lot, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to me, especially when we set those goals at the beginning. I was kind of just like, ‘Cool… what’s next?’ Let’s keep building on this and just keep winning.”

The Badgers also qualified for nationals for the first time ever in 2020, which was unfortunately halted in Calgary by the COVID-19 pandemic before it began.

A year out of play as well as a key graduation in 2018-19 OUA West player of the year Laura Condotta did not deter the Badgers whatsoever.

Buoyed by star performers such as OUA West first-team all-stars Torres — who has ranked top-two in digs per set in each of the last two seasons — setter Sarah Rohr and outside hitter Sadie Dick, the Badgers have compiled a 36-3 record since the start of the 2021-22 campaign, winning back-to-back Quigley Cups in 2022 and 2023 and favoured to do so again in 2024.

A team that was nowhere on the national radar for years now finds itself routinely ranked alongside Canada West (CW) powerhouses such as the University of British Columbia — a team the Badgers never got a chance to play in official competition until a loss in the 2023 nationals quarterfinals.

“We have had some success but we’re still chasing the national medal,” said Delaney on his squad that has been defeated in the quarterfinals by CW schools the past two years. “I still think that we have a group that can do that.

“And it might not be this year’s group, it might not be next year’s group — I might still have a ton to learn as a coach to be able to get us over that line — but we do try to think about what we’re doing in terms of leaving it behind for the next person.”

A group of women's volleyball players hugs one another while where 'OUA champions' hats.
Aleiah Torres, seen in red, celebrates one of her two Quigley Cups that the Brock women’s volleyball team won in 2022 and 2023 as OUA provincial champions. (Stephen Leithwood/Brock Sports)

Around the U Sports world:

  • Out west, the Trinity Western women’s volleyball team picked up its ninth and 10th wins of the season over Saskatchewan to keep a perfect record alive while UFV dealt UBC its first loss of the season, with the Thunderbirds now sitting at 9-1.
  • The Concordia women’s hockey team (12-0) and reigning national champion UNB men’s hockey team (16-0) remain undefeated heading into an ultra-short December schedule ahead of winter break. The Stingers wrap up their first-half schedule hosting Ottawa on Saturday while the Reds will play StFX and Dalhousie on the road this weekend.

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