Simon Fraser's Farnaaz Johal has emerged as one of the rising young stars on a Clan volleyball team riding a five-game GNAC win streak into a four-game homestead beginning Thursday atop Burnaby Mountain. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Women's Volleyball

Clan ‘creating their own luck’ as preparation, opportunity meet to give SFU volleyball chance to set new program GNAC win streak on ‘Dig Pink’ night

BURNABY — You’ve no doubt heard about the concoction produced from that time-tested recipe, the one where preparation meets opportunity?

Simon Fraser head volleyball coach Gina Schmidt isn’t denying the existence of old-fashioned good luck at various points of the five-match win streak her Clan (7-3) carry into the start of a four-game Great Northwest Athletic Conference home stand which begins with Thursday’s Dig Pink cancer fundraiser (7 p.m., West Gym) against the Western Oregon Wolves (1-9).

More importantly, however, Schmidt is applauding the process that the Clan women have taken through a month  of October which is threatening to become perhaps their best ever.

“When it comes to close matches, we’re now finding a way to win,” began Schmidt on Tuesday, reflecting on an historic road weekend in which SFU headed to Alaska and swept a pair of five-set thrillers Thursday and Saturday respectively against the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (23-25, 14-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-11) and the Alaska (Fairbanks) Nanooks (17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 21-25, 17-15).

“Sometimes there’s luck, and sometimes you create your own luck,” she continued of the sweep, her program’s first-ever in the state, and first-ever on the road against a UAA Seawolves program which has traditionally been a GNAC powerhouse. “We’ve played pretty good volleyball the whole time, and now we’re starting to see the fruits of our labour.”

Creating your own luck.

Ask a coach at any successful program and it’s a missing ingredient, and one which you open yourself up to receive only through the unfailing quest to get better.

That, in a nutshell, is what Clan volleyball has been all about since Schmidt assumed the reigns of the program prior to the 2013 season.

SFU outside hitter Kirsten Pinkney is one member of the largest senior class in head coach Gina Schmidt’s seven seasons at the helm of Clan volleyball. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Just now evolving through its first few recruiting cycles under the former Montana Grizzlies lead assistant, Simon Fraser volleyball is beginning to show the resilience and depth of an upper-echelon program, the current group looking to set a new, single-season GNAC consecutive-match win streak of six with a win Thursday against the Wolves.

That just such an opportunity has presented itself the season after it graduated one of its best ever in 6-foot-3 middle blocker Tessa May, now a grad assistant, says even more.

The Clan reeled off a seven-match win streak in 2016, but only the final three were conference wins. And in each of the past two seasons, SFU has managed five-match GNAC win streaks.

Which brings us to a 2019 GNAC campaign in which No. 2 nationally-ranked Western Washington (9-1) and second place Alaska Anchorage (8-2) each sit above the Clan (7-3), who were picked in the preseason to finish fourth.

For Schmidt, easily two of the biggest keys to the current win streak following a gritty 4-4 preseason against exclusive D2 competition and a 2-3 conference start, has been the presence of a deep senior class, and the presence of two special underclassmen, both former redshirt players.

“As a collective group, they make up a starting line-up,” Schmidt said Tuesday of her six seniors, including middle Angelica Kilberg who was forced to retire from the game following off-season shoulder surgery. “And three of them are outside hitters, so those are going to big shoes to fill.”

Betsie de Beer, Kirsten Pinkney and Tamara Clarke comprise that attacking strike force, and they along with middle Nicole Chevrier and defensive specialist Katerina Dolguikh comprise the largest class of Clan seniors during Schmidt’s seven-season tenure at the helm.

Their presence, however, has been foundational to the point where, when joined by juniors Julia Tays (setter) and Bianca Te (libero), a pair of players rising talents have been able to step into the lineup and excel.

Redshirt freshman Camryn Vosloh is putting up numbers that make her one of the top rookies in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

In fact, 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore middle Farnaaz Johal and 6-foot redshirt freshman outside hitter Camryn Vosloh have made seemingly seamless transitions into the main rotation.

Johal, who works the three-player rotation at middle with both freshman Kalynn Hartmann and Chevrier; and Vosloh, coming off an ACL injury which wiped out her true freshman campaign a season ago, each collected 29 combined kills in the weekend sweep of the Alaska schools.

“We have three talented middles, so it’s tough to pick who to put out there, but when we recruited Far, we knew she was good at hitting off one foot behind the setter, and that was one of Tessa’s signature attacks,” Schmidt says of the Penticton native who prepped for the Mustangs at Princess Margaret Secondary. “So it’s been great to have another player step in and fill that role. She has stepped into her own in the last few games and she has scored quite a few points for us.”

Vosloh, a Blaine (Wash.) grad who spent much of her childhood growing up in Surrey, originally came to the Clan in the 2018 recruiting class with Hartmann (Langley), Kalissa Beltran (defensive specialist/libero, Surrey-Semiahmoo), and Tyra Anderson (outside hitter, Surrey-Earl Marriott). That quartet won an Under-17 national championships title at the club level before making the climb up Burnaby Mountain.

So adaptable has Vosloh proven to be along the front row that the Clan was able to battle both Alaska schools despite de Beer feeling a little under the weather.

“Cammy has been coming in as a right side for us this year and was hitting very well, but with one of our regular starters a bit sick, we threw her in at left side,” said Schmidt of Vosloh who had 12 kills against Anchorage and then 17 more against Fairbanks.

“She came up with big kills, but sometimes new players don’t have the same memories of a gym, or any of the close calls or bad losses,” explained Schmidt of the way her freshman helped SFU snap what had been nine straight years of agony in Anchorage since joining the GNAC in 2010.

“That is definitely not an easy place to play in,” the coach continued of UAA’s Alaska Airlines Arena. “It’s a large space and tracking the ball in there is different than in most gyms.”

The win was all the more impressive when you consider that two nights after SFU knocked off the Seawolves, Anchorage bounced right back and defeated national power Western Washington 3-1, capping it 26-24 in the fourth.

Simon Fraser senior hitter Betsie de Beer and her Clan teammates will all Dig Pink at Thursday’s cancer fundraiser at the West Gym.(Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Thursday’s 7 p.m. Pink Night match against Western Oregon has been spearheaded by de Beer in honour of her former high school coach at West Vancouver Secondary, Mike MacNeil, who lost his battle with cancer this past August at the age of 47.

It marks the start of the second half of the 2019 GNAC campaign. Three more home games follow: Oct. 26 vs. Concordia (2 p.m.), Oct. 29 vs. Western Washington (7 p.m.) and Nov. 1 vs. Montana State Billings (7 p.m.).

And if the first half has done anything for the Clan, it has informed them that they can -rewrite program history as the co-authors of their own success.

Coming back from 0-2 down in a gym in which they had failed to beat the host Seawolves in almost a decade of trying?

“If you look at the stats, I am still not sure how we won the game,” Schmidt says, slyly making the point that intangibles are so often incalculable. 

“Typically, hitting percentage is the strongest correlation and they outhit us .196 to .178. They out-blocked us 16-6. They had more aces than us. I think the only thing was we dug a lot more balls (113 to 89) and that helped close the gap.”

They had some luck for sure, but it was the kind of luck you get when preparation meets opportunity.

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