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Amidst these trying times, optimism is a scarcity. However, now that the consequences of a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) decision appear to be non-existent, it is a good time to celebrate and reflect on the biggest Mariners Moment of the year.

The Mariners Women’s Volleyball Team travelled to Cepeg Garneau, in Quebec, for the CCAA Women’s Volleyball Nationals. From March 12 to March 14, the Mariners played a total of three games—a game a day. In these three games, the Mariners completed their 29-0 perfect season to secure their third consecutive national championship.

“It’s a good way to go out,” said one of the team’s two final year players and Middle Blocker, Amanda Dobbyn. “There’s nothing better we could’ve done this past season. We did win every single game, and we won the league.”

The first match of the tournament saw the Mariners take a convincing 3-0 win over Lynx d’Édouard-Montpetit. The Mariners dominated the first set, winning 25-15, while the next two sets had the same 25-18 result for the Mariners. 

Karoline Tormena and Danielle Groenendijk had a combined 20 kills for the Mariners, while their teammate Shelby Dorman-Banks recorded 23 assists. Andrea Cankovic was also a problem for the Lynx, as she put up 4 service aces. Dobbyn, who was awarded Player of the Game, recorded a service ace of her own, however, her presence was better felt on the defensive; Dobbyn recorded a match-high 5 block assists as well as one block solo. 

While Dobbyn admitted to being “a little nervous” for the first game, she pointed out that the team’s anxieties were focused elsewhere. While the entire sports world shut down around them, they wondered if they would get the chance to finish their season. 

“The fact that we were able to play still was, I think, a little surprising, but very relieving for sure,” Dobbyn said. “Definitely the whole time we were a little stressed. Like, ‘okay, if things get worse, they could still cancel this.’”

On Friday, March 13, the Mariners met for their pre-game practice turned scrimmage, while the CCAA held another meeting regarding the Volleyball Championship. According to Dobbyn, Head Coach Shane Hyde anticipated that the scrimmage would be the last time the team would play Volleyball for the season. 

Uncharacteristically for the date, the Mariners received some luck and they got to play in the semi-final game. That said, protocols for the tournament had changed. For instance, only family members were allowed to attend games.

The Mariners played the Fanshawe Falcons for their second match of the tournament. Although the Mariners took the first set, 25-17, the Falcons evened the score in the second, winning 25-19. The Mariners killed their opponent’s momentum in the third, winning 25-14. The fourth and final set was closer, however, as the Mariners won with a smaller 25-22 lead.

Dorman-Banks put up 41 assists and 12 digs, while her teammates, Cankovic, Tormena, and Groenendijk combined for 41 kills. Groenendijk was recognized as the Player of the Game, with a Mariner high 15 kills, 13 digs, 1 service ace, 2 assists, and 2 block assists. 

Dobbyn said that one would expect to be calm and collected going into the Gold Game after winning back-to-back National Championships, however, she noted that this game was the most nervous she had ever been. 

“I felt so nauseous the whole day leading up to the final on the Saturday. We were playing the host team, and they were also undefeated at the time. They just had the home court advantage,” Dobbyn said. “My stomach was just in knots all day, then we got out there and it was a little better, and it worked out.”

The Mariners matched up against the Élans de Garneau (the Elk), in the National Championship. Although the matches prior had empty stands, the Elk had host team support—some rules on attendance were broken. 

The first set of the match was tight, as the Elk took a 25-22 win over the Mariners. This was the first time in the season that the Mariners lost the first set of a match. 

“I was like, ‘oh my goodness,’” Dobbyn said, laughing. “[The competition] was nice, because I feel like in the past couple years, going in, like in Grand Prairie two years ago, and Niagra last year, we obviously worked really hard, but there were no teams that gave us a strong pushback.”

The first set was the only one that the Mariners would give up, as they went on to win the next three sets, 25-19, 25-15, and 25-17, and the third consecutive National Championship.

“I always think I’m going to cry after we win, but I never have,” Dobbyn laughed. “It’s still an emotional feeling, for sure. And I kinda got a little teary-eyed in the team room afterwards, because we did some talking. It’s definitely, for me, the personal connections more, that you make with those teammates, and you’re able to achieve this thing together with your best friends.”

Dobbyn said that the Mariners persevered and stayed positive, but she also credited her teammate Jane Nyukhalova as a critical piece in the team’s comeback. 

“She’s an amazing player,” Dobbyn said. “She went in, and she made a huge difference—the best we’ve seen her play all year, for sure. So I think that was a huge part of it. Like, having this amazing player come out and show us what she can really do.”

According to Dobbyn, Nyukhalova has been in a back-up role this year because she has a baby to look after, on top of academics and athletics. 

Nyukhalova was named Player of the Game, recording a game-high 20 kills, along with 4 digs, and two block assists. Dorman-Banks contributed 43 assists for the Mariners while her teammates Cankovic and Tormena combined for 22 kills and 20 digs. 

Tormena, who made the game-winning kill, was named the tournament MVP. Tormena and Groenendijk were also named CCAA All Canadians, while Cankovic, Dorman-Banks, and Dobbyn were named CCAA First Team All-Stars. 

“That meant a lot to me,” Dobbyn said. “I don’t always get the recognition. I’m just on the court, and I do what I need to do.”

With this flawless season concluded, the Mariners now have 6 Gold Medals at the CCAA Championships, and 17 medals in total. 

Now that all is said and done, it’s worth noting that our Mariners returned home safely, and haven’t shown any symptoms of illness. 

Dobbyn added, “I think it’s just important to note that we were already over there, the competition had started, and they took so many precautions to make sure that we were all safe. Like they changed so many aspects of the game, like protocol. And then not letting the audience come in, which is a huge part of any sport. And it actually ended up being the largest live-stream audience they’ve ever had… People might pass some judgement, but I think it’s important that they know that [the CCAA] did do everything in their ability to keep us all safe while allowing us to play out our competition. And I’m Grateful that they did that.” 

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