Photo by: Charlie Martin
Coming off two important home wins against the York Lions, the Badgers faced a tougher and even more important opponent on Saturday, Feb. 4. Sitting with a 13-2 record, the Badgers were only one game back with a game in hand on this weekend’s matchup with the Waterloo Warriors.
In many ways, this is the definitive matchup of OUA women’s volleyball.
As of Saturday, Waterloo was first, with 28 points with 46 sets for and 15 against. The Badgers are second, with 26 points, 43 sets for and 11 against. Brock is first in the OUA in kills per set, Waterloo is second. Waterloo is first in hitting percentage while Brock is third. Brock puts up an OUA-high 11.79 assists per set, while Waterloo is not far behind at 11.42. Points per set? A dead tie for first between the Badgers and the Warriors at 16.2 apiece.
Gearing up for a playoff run, and looking to build on last years’ OUA title and national championship appearance, this is one of the Badgers’ most important games of the regular season. Before their game, to discuss this matchup, the Badgers’ dominating 2022-23 regular season run, and his path to becoming one of the country’s best volleyball coaches, head coach and reigning U Sports Coach of The Year Steve Delaney sat down to talk about it.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Steve Delaney: It’s basically playoff time now. We’ve played Waterloo already and they’re a great team. We’re going into their gym, and they’re also really tough to play against in their gym, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. Like you mentioned, it is definitely a battle for the top of the OUA; whoever wins that match will kind of be in the driver’s seat because, you know, you’re playing a team that’s got the same record as you, that’s a big piece if you’re trying to hold home-court advantage over the playoffs, which we’re trying to do. We did it last year, and it worked out well for us, because we’re also tough to beat at home, so we’re trying to hold on to home court advantage if we can.
Delaney played at the university level with the University of Winnipeg before turning pro in France and Finland, in addition to being a member of the Team Canada Beach Volleyball team. He got his coaching start with Burlington’s Halton Hurricanes, where he won provincial and national medals.
Steve Delaney: I started coaching at the club level with the Halton Hurricanes, around 2016. It was just something that kind of got a hold on me, and I was in the area, and I thought it was kind of time to get back into volleyball and give back. I mean, volleyball has given a lot of opportunities to me. Like, after I was done playing, seriously, professionally, I really, really began to enjoy it even more because of the relationships I’d made and that type of stuff. So, I was happy to give back, to the city of Burlington and working with the Hurricanes, and as I was doing that, I was doing some provincial team stuff, and it came up that the Brock job was available. The former men’s coach and I met at a volleyball event in Ottawa, he was telling me about the opportunity, and I was thinking “this sounds like something I’d like to apply to”, and I did and now I’m here. 5 years later, it’s been a great experience, we’ve put a lot of work in, we’ve made some pretty good progress, we’re just striving to be the best we can.
In 2019-20, Delaney’s Badgers claimed the OUA West Division title and a silver medal at the OUA Championships. Their OUA Final Four appearance since 1991 and Delaney’s first OUA coach of the year, he would go on to win another, in addition to a U-Sports Coach of the Year.
Steve Delaney: First of all, I might get a lot of the credit, but it doesn’t happen without all the athletes on the court. It’s the ones in practice, contributing and getting the job done. It’s not just me, it’s a collective, it’s all together. I think the biggest thing we changed moving forward was, I think the athletes were ready for a change. I think they were open to new ideas and new voices, so I think that definitely helped the situation. When you’re at the bottom of the rankings, the only place to go is up. I think one of the first things I told them at open-gym over the summertime, was “this is not a last place team, I can tell you by the talent in this gym, it’s not a last place team. All we have to do is figure a few things out.
We tried to fix our serve to pass. That was the biggest impact I tried to make, because I saw we were giving away a lot of free points in that area, and now that’s one of our strengths. So, I think by having our serve to pass game on point, that puts us into a position to be competitive in almost any match. Those small things, while I was trying to create a culture where people can feel vulnerable at times but also supported by their team and by their coaches, its not an easy thing when you’re striving to win the OUA all the time, and playing a high-performance sport, its not always the most fun things, there’s always a little hard work involved, but hopefully its really rewarding at the end of the season.
In his five years at Brock, the mark Delaney has left on the program and the school is evident, and much of that is thanks to his approach as a coach and as a leader.
Steve Delaney: My philosophy is more… When people ask that question, I usually say I believe in creating winners on and off the court, turning positive reinforcement into error detection. So what that means is I want you to win in the classroom, and in life, but I want you to win on the court as well, but hopefully I can empower you to do that by being positive, but also being able to help identify some areas to improve through self-reflection and certain types of comments that help you be better. That’s what I try to do for myself, I wasn’t always that way, so as I’ve matured, there’s been a lot more self reflection that pertains to how I can be better, and trying to hopefully pass that on to the girls that I coach, have them learn some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, so they’re hopefully not making the same errors I made. So that’s pretty much how that works in terms of philosophy.
With the team’s success this season, there has also come a significant amount of individual success for the Badgers. Sadie Dick and Madison Chimienti are eight and eleventh in the OUA in kills per set, while Emily Foest, Laurin Ainsworth and Christina Jovetic all also occupy the top 50. Grace Pyatt, Dick, Ainswoth and Chimienti are first, seventh, twelfth and 22nd in hitting percentage. Sarah Rohr is second in assists, and Aleiah Torres is also second in digs per set. With all the star power, it’s worth asking whether recruiting or development has been more to thank.
Steve Delaney: Recruiting has actually been super hard after we won last year. It’s been harder to try and get people to come to Brock. I think it’s because they know we’re a young team and a lot of them are playing well, so they might not be able to get playing time. Like anything else it’s earned, playing time is earned, respect, from your teammates and your coaching staff, is kind of earned as well, so recruiting is definitely a big piece, but developing once you get here is key. I mean, Sarah Rohr didn’t come in and start right away. She had to earn her way, and she worked really hard, not just in practice, but away from the gym, away from Brock, in the summertime she was playing beach, she was hitting the weights in the gym, and Aleiah [Torres] is one of our strongest athletes in the gym when we go to lift. So those two athletes that you mentioned, I think the work ethic that has helped them progress, in terms of being one of the top players in the OUA in their position, if not Canada.
To continue to make strides in their development as a team, the Badgers flew out to British Columbia over the winter break to train and match up against some of their western competition.
Steve Delaney: The idea was, we have to go out and compete against some of those teams we never see. Some of those teams out West, they’re very good out there. They have very good programs. Multiple schools. Everybody knows that Canada West is a very tough conference so it was great to go compete against them. Some great team bonding moments too. Some hikes, we spent New Years together, played a bunch of games, it was really good to have some team bonding. It was also a sacrifice for everybody because we were all away from our friends and our families who we weren’t seeing over new years, so we kind of worked through that, and it brings you closer in a way, because everyone’s happy to be there, working towards getting better, but at the same time too, we’re also missing home and your loved ones, and we were kind of going through that together. It was a really good trip. We experienced, as I mentioned, some of the most beautiful mountains, and lakes, and hikes and walks that we did. So we had a really really positive experience, and we got to train against UBC, Fraser Valley, and Trinity who are some of the top teams in the country, so if we don’t do that trip, we don’t have that opportunity to train against those teams.
With the season drawing to a close and his team playing well, Delaney won’t be making any major changes down the stretch.
Steve Delaney: There are some tactical things that I usually don’t employ until we get close to playoffs, which is, well, kind of now. It might as well be the playoffs for us. If we want to hold home-court, we pretty much got to win every game. So, its important to do those little tweaks and little things that, in a five set match, the proper tactical change can sway that final set in either direction. So those little things that we’re going to work on, hopefully become big in terms of results.
The Badgers would ultimately come up with a four-set win over the Warriors on Saturday, giving them the best record in the OUA. The Badgers were powered by a strong two-way performance from Chimienti, who had a game-high 15 kills with a team-leading 15 digs, in addition to Rohr who had 48 assists. The Badgers play their last two home games of the regular season next weekend, on Friday Feb.10 and Saturday Feb.11. For their full schedule and results, go to gobadgers.ca.