It's no secret that Ken Bentley's formula for success with his University of Manitoba women's volleyball team is to pounce out every so often and pull off a banner recruiting year. These groups of players stick together and win together.
The newest group to become part of the Bisons' winning tradition was unveiled this week. Emily Erickson (J.H. Bruns), Jordana Milne (Oak Park), Crystal Mulder (River East), Danika Picklyk (St. Mary's Academy), Miranda Schmidt (Mennonite Brethren) and Christina Souza (Vincent Massey) and Christine Foest (Ontario) are suiting up for the Herd.
The seven players join a formidable list of athletes who were recruited in groups by Bentley, now in his 25th year as Bisons head coach. Bentley has won five national titles, the most recent being back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002.
History has shown big things will be expected from this group and that they will deliver.
The Bisons, who won silver at nationals last season and are ranked No. 1 in Canada this week, are made up of players from two big recruiting groups in 2006 and 2007.
Ashley Voth and Amy (Penner) Toews were among a group of six trotted out in 2006 while Sam Loewen, Tricia Mayba, Kate Wasyliw and Kristi Hunter were recruited in 2007.
"Typically, two good recruiting years in a row has set us on our way for a great generation of teams," Bentley said.
"With Ashley's group, we had six kids come in and we were ranked No. 1 that year. We were one of the best teams all year, but fell a bit short at nationals. We've gone on to be very good for so long without having achieved that final goal (national title), but we still have that opportunity this year."
Souza, a setter, and four others in the group played together with the Junior Bisons club team and won the Under-17 national championship this year.
"That is one of the reasons for coming here (U of M). We know each other so I'm not going to feel alone at all," said Souza, 17, who was born in Brazil and moved to Winnipeg at age 14 when her father became a U of M professor. "A team who grows up together makes you like a unit, a family, and we're like a team already even though we're all at different schools right now."
Bentley said Picklyk, a left-side hitter, is already playing at a university level.
"That's why I want to be part of the Bisons program because he (Bentley) sets the bar high, that pushes me and I know I can be the best player I can possibly be playing for him," Picklyk, 17, said.
That's happened with the groups of players who have gone before this group, many of whom who have come from Bentley's Junior Bisons club program.
"There's no doubt it (bringing in a group of recruits at the same time) gives you a strong foundation to start with," Bentley said. "We know we'll be starting at a fairly high level with their skill level, their confidence and their experience. They come in with the ability to handle the ball and compete right away at a pretty consistent level. Then it's just a matter of adjusting to university life, training and the environment."