After winning the CCAA National Championship last season at home in such dramatic fashion, there was some concern for this season’s Mariners lacking the same motivation to repeat. But that hasn’t been an issue as VIU has another successful season underway.

The squad is sitting in second place, just two points behind the University of Frasier Valley (UFV), and has a comfortable lead over third place Columbia Bible College (CBC). The M’s have only lost two matches all season and head coach Shane Hyde is happy with where his team is at so far.

“The only area for slight concern was just the bounce-back from winning Nationals, that Nationals hangover,” Hyde says. “That drive wasn’t quite there at the beginning, but I think it’s really starting to [show] now.

“We’re at the second half, we’re seeing Provincials and Nationals at the end of the tunnel and the girls are relighting that flame of excitement.”

VIU returned from Christmas break by defeating Capilano University in straight sets. Alyssa Wolf was named PacWest Athlete of the Week for her strong play, highlighted by 16 digs, 12 kills, and 3 aces in the first match.

Still, Hyde is looking to fine-tune the squad in practice with only eight matches remaining before Provincials.

“We’re really working a lot on our blocking and a lot on our service, too,” Hyde says. “So those are the two areas that we’re going to improve on, and then just really focusing on having some fun.”

Fifth-year setter Dani Smith will be trying to do that this semester, in what is her final season as a Mariner. However, she wants to leave VIU with a strong effort.

“There’s a little bit more emphasis than my first year, but every year is very different and this is the last kick at the can,” Smith says.

The showdown against UFV in two weeks will be a great test for Smith and her team. UFV is one of the strongest teams in the country and is a calibre similar to what VIU would face at Nationals.

“They play a tempo very similar to ours,” Hyde says. “The other teams we play in our conference are a little bit unorthodox so sometimes they catch you off guard with a few points here and there. Frasier Valley plays just like us, with a lot of fast offense.”

Hyde is not focussing on overthrowing UFV for first place in the standings, but rather improving the team game-by-game.

“We have 24 matches this year and what we talk about as a team is being number one at the end of Provincials,” Hyde says. “By the end of the season I believe we will be number one, and then battle for tops in Canada. That’s our goal and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be there.”

But before that, the Mariners must take on CBC at home on Jan. 25–26. Despite having fewer points, the Bearcats defeated VIU early in the season. Smith is confident her team will not take the visitors lightly.

“I think it will be a very different situation from the first time we played them,” Smith says. “I think our team has grown a lot, especially being at home usually brings out the best in the entire team. I think it will be a really good test to our improvement, and I have a good feeling our team will rise to the challenge.”

The Mariners only have two weeks of home matches remaining in the season after travelling to UFV. Smith will play her final game as a Mariner in front of the home crowd in what will likely be an emotional game for players and fans alike.

“It’s really exciting and it’s crazy that I’ve been here for five years,” Smith says. “I want to leave without any regrets.”