© Jason Malloy/The Guardian
Holland College Hurricanes head coach Lori-Beth Dwyer watches captain Sydney Foy on the attack Friday at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women's volleyball championship.
No one can deny the Holland College women's volleyball team cobbled together a good run at the recent national championship in Charlottetown.
The eight-seeded and host Hurricanes went 1-2, finished tied for fifth, won its first ever Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) national tournament contest and stayed in the running for a bronze medal until falling to the Humber Hawks Saturday.
Not bad for a program that less than half a decade ago was a consistent bottom feeder in the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA), struggling to just win a game, so head coach Lori-Beth Dwyer knows there's something good happening here.
"If you were to say three years ago we'd win a national (championship) game, I never would have believed you. Now, there's a lot of hope. We'll compete for a while," said Dwyer before Saturday's gold medal game.
"Throughout the tournament we played very well. We proved we can compete at this level."
Before Dwyer's arrival three seasons ago, the 'Canes went 1-78 from 2009 to 2013.
Dwyer's first year, 2013-14, wasn't a charmer either, the squad went 1-17, but it brought in captain Sydney Foy, retained Emily Caldwell, both were ACAA first-team all-stars that first year (Foy was also a CCAA all-Canadian), and Kendra Dawkins to build a foundation.
The next season with recruits like Meg MacKinnon, a former UPEI volleyballer, and rookies Laura Ready and Dana Trainor, Dwyer's group finished 15-6, good for second in the regular season, and second in the ACAA championship.
This season with addition Olivia Dolphin, another ex-UPEI player, came another double-digit record, 18-3, and a second overall finish at the ACAA. At nationals, the Hurricanes showed the mettle of the college and the conference, which can only improve both, said Dwyer.
"(These results make it) easier to get players to come here, helps with recruiting. It shows the ACAA can compete with rest of the country."
But competing at the nationals isn't winning. Holland College's five-set victory over British Columbia's College Of The Rockies, was sandwiched by straight-set losses in the opener against top-ranked Garneau and second-seeded Humber.
And while those wins weren't easy for the 'Canes opponents, Dwyer knows her squad learned valuable lessons in the losses.
"We talked a lot about the importance of speeding up the offence. Now that they saw it for themselves, we can do it ourselves," said Dwyer. "We struggled to stay consistent. We were on a roller coaster ride. Our speed could have been a little bit faster."
Next year Dwyer is back, as is Trainor and MacKinnon. Foy has a year of eligibility left, but her status is in limbo. Assistant coach Rebecca Gill returns, as well. New recruits are coming and the roster's younger players are a year older and armed with national experience.
Plus, the head coach and Ross Dwyer, her "very supportive husband," she said, are expecting a baby in August, all of which could make for an interesting 2016-17.
"It's going to be a wild ride, but we're going to make it. Now that we've come this far, I'm not willing to let it go just yet," she said.
Dwyer won the ACAA coach of the year in 2014-15 and is a two-time CCAA coach of the year nominee.