Season preview: Women’s volleyball program takes deep, talented roster into new season

Rachel Funk, Amy Davidson and Kelly Robertson (from left) are among a strong group of returning veterans for Mike Gilray's squad.

Rachel Funk, Amy Davidson and Kelly Robertson (from left) are among a strong group of returning veterans for Mike Gilray’s squad.

2015-16 SEASON REVIEW

Regular season record: 9-15, fifth in PACWEST

Post-season record: 1-2 (finished fourth in PACWEST)

Returning stat leaders: Rachel Funk (2.31 kills/set, 2.63 points of total offence/set), Amy Davidson (3.92 digs/set), Monique Huber (0.63 aces/set), Kelly Robertson (2.31 kills/set).

2016-17 ROSTER

2016-17 SCHEDULE

This weekend: Cascades vs. Capilano Blues, Friday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and Saturday (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.) at the Envision Athletic Centre

In addition to bringing back nine players from last year’s squad, Cascades women’s volleyball head coach Mike Gilray reeled in a strong recruiting class featuring five transfer athletes. As a result, he’s got a great deal of talent, experience and depth at his disposal this season.

“One of our goals was to bring in some age and experience as a recruiting class,” he noted. “And returning a lot of our starters is good. Our level of ball control and our defensive prowess is definitely going to be a strength this year. We’ll keep the ball off the ground and challenge teams to do a lot to score. Because we have a lot of returning players, it’s been a smooth transition, and there’s been a lot of competition. We’re a much deeper team this year.”

HOME OPENING WEEKEND! @goufv vs. @capilanoblues! #bethere #GoCascades

A photo posted by UFV Cascades Athletics (@ufvcascades) on

The Cascades came within a game of qualifying for nationals last season, falling to the eventual national champion Vancouver Island University Mariners in the PACWEST semifinals before losing to Capilano in the conference bronze medal game.

They return a collection of key starters as they seek to take the next step, including their outstanding middle duo of Monique Huber and Mandelyn Erikson, versatile left side Rachel Funk, libero Amy Davidson and dynamic attacker Kelly Robertson, who is transitioning from the left side to the right this season.

Joining that quintet in the projected starting lineup for this weekend’s games are a pair of veteran transfers – left side Kim Bauder (formerly of Memorial University) and setter Jessica Funk (Douglas College), Rachel’s sister.

Gilray will be without four players due to injury this weekend, a mixture of short-term and long-term ailments. That’s where the improved depth comes in handy. The second-year bench boss is further encouraged by his team’s strong commitment to off-season training, and a solid showing at a recent preseason tournament at Everett Community College where they posted a 4-2 record.

“I think every team starts out wanting to go after that national championship,” Gilray said. “This is a tough league. I feel we got better as a team, but so did everybody. The quality of athletes coming in across the board are going to make the PACWEST really tough this year.

“It’s great to start off at home,” he added, noting that this weekend’s games are a rematch of last season’s PACWEST bronze medal game. “Our girls are excited to play Capilano again, but we have a really strong team coming into our gym and we’re going to have to be sharp.”

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