Jennifer Casey knows the Lakehead Thunderwolves volleyball team had struggled in the past when facing do-or-die situations.
On Friday, she did her part to make sure Lakehead opened the regular season on the right foot.
Despite dropping the fourth set, Casey and her Thunderwolves held on to win their Ontario university regular season opener, pulling out a five-set (25-19, 20-25, 25-23, 14-25, 15-10) victory over the Windsor Lancers at the CJ Sanders Fieldhouse.
“For the past few years we had always lost in the fifth set, and that losing taught us so much. I think this fifth set shows what we’ve really learned in the past few years,” Casey said.
Casey, a junior left-side hitter, spurred the team in the fifth set, as she had two consecutive kills to cap off a five-point Lakehead run that provided the Thunderwolves with an insurmountable lead.
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She is a member of a committee of players looking to fill the void left by last year’s OUA point leader Vanessa Chorkawy.
She put the load on her shoulders when it mattered the most.
“I think we really wanted it so I wasn’t going to let any mistakes ruin it,” Casey said. “I just left everything on the floor and tried my hardest and all my girls did a great job playing defence.”
This is the first time in three years that the Thunderwolves have picked up a win in their first game of the regular season as they look to build upon a preseason where they went 6-3.
The team was able to draw on one aspect of their preseason to pull out the victory.
“Every fifth set we’ve played this year, and there’s been a few, we’ve always started the fifth set well,” Thunderwolves head coach Chris Green said. “The thing is the fifth set is about knowing your opponent,
The Thunderwolves had an opportunity to close out the match a set earlier, as they entered with fourth with a two-set to one lead.
However, with their backs against the wall, the Lancers played a strong set and never gave the hosts an opportunity to mount any momentum.
Lakehead started the match off with authority, winning the first five points in the opening set. They led for most of the set, but Windsor was able to pull even 17-17.
The Lancers appeared ready to take the lead on the next point, but a pancake dig by Thunderwolves setter Sara Hudson saved the point and turned the momentum as Lakehead won eight of the set’s final 10 points.
Windsor responded by winning a back and forth second set, and keeping Lakehead from jumping out in front.
The Thunderwolves restored the edge in the third, as they took a narrow victory in the set.
Helping lead the way was fifth-year senior Jorie Daymond, who made her return to game action nearly seven months after a major knee injury.
Green explained he thought there was no better time to get Daymond in the match than with her squad on the ropes.
“It was just a matter of when we could get her in and get her going,” he said. “At that point when you’re down, it’s the time to put her in. She’s the leader of this group and she has been for a while.”
As Lakehead looks to build upon last year’s playoff campaign, the team is off to a much better start than they were one year ago. The team got off to a 0-6 start last year and had to go on a hot run down the stretch to squeak into the postseason.
Casey said early wins have the potential to pay significant dividends later in the season.
“I just think (Friday) was great for us in starting on a high note instead of digging us a hole to come out of and try to make playoffs like last year,” Casey explained. “I just want to stay consistent all year.”
Lakehead and Windsor face off in a rematch on Saturday evening at the CJ Sanders Fieldhouse, with a scheduled start of 7 p.m.
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