DAVID LARKINS, Wesmen Athletics
A Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball team that was the youngest in Canada West in 2017-18 is now a year older and bringing with it bigger expectations to take a step forward.
And the Wesmen will begin that journey Friday when they take part in the seven-team University of Regina Invitational, the event that annually serves as an unofficial kick off to the non-conference schedule for many Canada West squads.
The Wesmen will play five matches — against Regina, Saskatchewan, Brandon, Alberta and Manitoba —over the course of three days, providing Diane Scott's side a chance to microwave the off-season development with some early on-court action.
"Putting (practice reps) into real-time game situations … It's different in practice. Even if the intensity's good, it's still different when you're playing each other, you start to get into a routine," Scott said. "You need to have these exposures where you have to show up and play and process it on the fly."
The Wesmen return 11 players from 2017-18 and add in just three newcomers in true freshmen Kely Warmington, Mikaela Cameron and Bella Gierys. That high return rate means chemistry can remain intact and fourth-year setter Rylie Dickson likes the tight-knit nature of this year's Wesmen.
"We have a lot of returning players, which is really nice to see, and then a couple new faces," Dickson said. "(The chemistry) is better than last year in my opinion. We've all played with each other for one year, we all know what each other is going to do. (The newcomers) it feels like they've been here a long time already.
"I think last year it was hard because we were so young and this year we are a year older, which can make a huge difference and I already notice it in practice.
"We've been practising hard … but we're excited to see how we compare to the other teams and see what we can do that way."
Scott didn't take her team to the Regina tournament last year, theorizing that a team with eight players in their first or second year didn't need to be thrown into the fire right away. This year it's different, as the Wesmen need – and want – that early exposure to the strength of the Canada West.
"We get a chance to play all Canada West schools, and anytime you get that, you get better because you get the exposure against our direct opponents," Scott said. "We get five great matches, we get the opportunity for growth and exposure, and everybody will get an opportunity."
Winnipeg's first match goes at 3 p.m. CT against host Regina. A full schedule of Wesmen matches is available on the team's schedule page.