THUNDER BAY – Rachel Sweezey returned to the Lakehead Thunderwolves for a fifth and final season for one reason – to provide veteran leadership to a very young women’s volleyball team.
And while the results in the standings didn’t necessarily materialize this season, the Ottawa native is confident the team is headed in the right direction.
“I committed to my fifth year as the only fifth year, and no fourth years, so I knew very well it was a young team. But I’ve always said I want to help grow this program. When I came in it was very different than when I’m leaving,” Sweezey said.
“So I’m glad to have helped make some changes and I hope they continue it.”
Looking ahead, she thinks the Thunderwolves are in good hands, despite a 2-17 finish this season, punctuated by Sunday’s straight set defeat (15-25, 16-25, 17-25) at the hands of the No. 7 Brock Badgers, who improved to 14-3 by taking both games against LU on the road this weekend.
“I think it’s bright. There are a lot of young faces who have come in and contributed and there are more recruits coming as well,” Sweezey said.
Lakehead coach Craig Barclay said with only one graduating senior, this season was all about gaining experience at the OUA level and putting that knowledge into use next season and beyond.
Third-year middle Meghan Routier and rookie left-side hitter Megam Nahachewsky both showed plenty of promise in 2019-20 and Barclay said there’s plenty to be excited about moving forward.
“We have three first years on the court and two second years. We really put ourselves in position in a lot of games. The experience this year for them is invaluable,” he said.
His only regret is that Sweezey won’t be around to share in any future successes.
“She was the definition of hard work and definition. She has been a staple in this program for five years and we’re happy to celebrate her today with her friends and family and the team,” Barclay said.
Sunday’s finale was about what one might expect when a top 10 team takes on a team buried deep in the OUA West cellar.
The two teams played a tight match for the first quarter of the opening set, but a 6-1 run opened up a16-8 Badgers lead and they’d go on to win by 10.
The Thunderwolves were more competitive in the second set, holding a 6-4 advantage at one point. But the Badgers, with their eyes on a national championship, proved too strong an opponent. They rolled off eight straight points, including three straight service aces by fifth-year left-side hitter Laura Condotta and never recovered, Brock taking the set 25-16.
The Wolves led in the earliest stages of the third and final set, but after allowing Lakehead to cut a six-point Brock lead to four, the Badgers pulled away late to take the match with a 25-17 win.
Brock finishes up regular-season play next weekend on the road against Windsor and Western.