Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bisons, Wesmen get their mojo back

Women's volleyball teams both ranked in national top 10

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For the first time in six years, the Wesmen and Bisons women's volleyball teams at the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba are both ranked in the national top 10 and in the top half of the conference standings.

It's so 1992.

Fans will remember the heyday of volleyball in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when U of W coach Diane Scott was a Wesmen player who was the best athlete in Canadian Interuniversity Sport and Bisons coach Ken Bentley was in his early coaching years. The two women's teams duked it out regularly on the court and in the national rankings.

The Wesmen program, ranked No. 5 this week, last had a winning record in 2006 after earning silver on the national stage in 2003. The Bisons program, ranked No. 6 this week, won 12 medals in 16 straight appearances at nationals (1993-2002) and last won silver at nationals in 2009-2010 before losing in the Canada West final four last year.

"From 2002 to 2006, we were pretty competitive so in terms of consistent performance in terms of season, we're back there," said Scott, whose team finished just two wins out of a playoff spot last season.

"The maturing of this team, going through what we went through the last couple of years, just missing out (playoffs), growth, additions, attitude, effort, it's been a combination of all those things this year."

The two teams, along with the men's teams from the two schools, met Wednesday night in Canada West conference play and the final leg of the annual Duckworth Challenge.

Bentley has churned out teams that have gone to the nationals 18 times in his 26-year career. The Bisons lost in the conference playoffs last season.

"I'm ecstatic with how this season has gone, we've played with and beaten some of the best teams in the country to this point," said Bentley. "We've had really great veteran leadership, we've competed so hard every time we've played. It's really been a lot of fun."

The Wesmen, who were ranked No. 2 in Canada earlier this month, have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in captain Lauren Sears' five-year career.

"It's exciting (to have a playoff berth), we believe we can be one of those top teams," said Sears. "We just have the right personnel on the floor right now, the right combination of experience and youth and I think we have a special chemistry. We all have this really amazing drive. All of us on the floor really have this belief we can win and beat any team."

Bisons fifth-year captain Tricia Mayba, a national team member, said it benefits volleyball in the city to have two successful programs.

"Now there's a crosstown rivalry and you can really feel it between the two teams and it's so much more fun for all of us," Mayba said. "It's a challenge for us to maintain our spot."

In 1989-92, Bentley led the Manitoba Bisons to three straight women's national crowns in 1989-1992.

The following year the Wesmen, led by Scott who was named the CIS female player of the year, won the national title in 1992-93.

The Bisons are the last university women's team from this province to win the national volleyball title taking it two straight years in 2000-02.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2012 D4

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