SASKATOON – The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s volleyball team took part in an unorthodox drill Friday, batting the ball back-and-forth under the net rather than over it. The drill had two purposes: to force the players to focus on defence and more importantly, to let them have a bit of fun.
And why not have fun?
The Huskies entered the holiday break on a four-match winning streak and now must wait six weeks until their next game.
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“Confidence is high. We’re in a really good place. The girls are very satisfied with the first half, I’m very satisfied with the first half,” explained head coach Mark Dodds.
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Thanks to their hot streak, the Huskies hit the break with a 6-6 record, their best first-half record since the 1998-99 season. One of the keys to their success has been the emergence of outside hitter Taylor Annala.
“I’m just trying to keep my confidence,” she said. “I know I’m a first-year still, so I’m just trying to stay confident and know that I know how to play volleyball and it’s just a basic sport.”
The six-foot tall Dinsmore, Sask. native is actually in her second season with the Huskies but in most respects, she’s still a rookie. That’s because knee and back issues cut her first year short.
Eventually, Annala successfully appealed to have her first year of athletic eligibility reinstated, retroactively making her a redshirt player in 2014-15. It was still difficult to be relegated to the sidelines but she used the setback as an opportunity to hit the reset button on her Huskies career.
“It was really frustrating, because I came in ready to play. I was really excited to be in the CIS,” Annala said. “Then with those injuries it set me back but it drove me to really want to be better this year.”
Mission accomplished. After seeing limited duty in the Huskies first five matches this season, Annala has become a mainstay in the lineup and is among the team leaders in nearly every key stat category.
“She hits the ball pretty hard and (has) great control with it and then for a taller player, a bigger player in our league, she’s got great control with the underhand pass so she can serve-receive. She plays defence really well,” said Dodds, reciting Annala’s many positive attributes.
Add the ability to see the game that Dodds said sets Annala apart from her peers and you’ve got a player that’s poised to lead the Huskies for years to come. But for now, she’s just happy to be back playing the sport she loves.
“It’s really awesome that I can say that I’m contributing to our growing success and I just know that we’re going to keep growing from here and it’ll only get better.”