Sports The Humber Hawks women's volleyball team in action earlier this year.

Published on March 29, 2017 | by Rob Jowett     Photography by Rob Jowett

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A decade without defeat

Returning from the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women’s volleyball national championships, the Humber Hawks should have been excited. But, for unforeseen reasons, the experience became a disappointment.

The Hawks had been heavily favoured to win the competition in Camosun, BC. Instead, hit with the flu, injuries, and nerves, the team finished last. The Lakeland Rustlers from Alberta went on win the contest.

“We just couldn’t figure it out,” said centre Ashleigh Darrach. “You can blame it on anything, you can blame it on the different balls, the different gym, the host school, but we just couldn’t figure it out.”

The Hawks narrowly lost a tiebreaker to the host, the Camosun Chargers.

But despite that loss, the Hawks have been at the top of their game. This year marked their 10th consecutive Ontario championship win, when they beat the Durham Lords in straight sets. In the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA), the group that hosts college sports in Ontario, that feat has never been achieved before.

The Hawks also have the highest win streak in the OCAA. They finished this season having won 130 consecutive games, stretching back eight years.

Many players have gone their entire time with the Hawks without losing, said Darrach, such as former star player Thalia Hanniman, an outside hitter. “[Thalia] graduated last year. She did a full five years here and she’s never lost a game in Ontario,” Darrach said, who has also never lost in Ontario.

According to head coach Chris Wilkins, the Hawks’ success is due to their ability to pick the right players.

“We’ve been pretty successful in bringing the right people to be a part of the program,” he said. “The program itself creates that type of athlete that wants to be part of a winning culture and it brings in the athlete that wants to buy into the team concept.”

Darrach agreed, and said that the team’s core program helps build that culture. “We look for good people first, and then good athletes. If you’re not going to fit the mold of what this team is, then nice knowing you but you’re not going to be a contributing factor to our success.”

Team captain Alexandra Newman said that it takes effort to build their success. “There’s a lot of hard work and preparation. Humber’s lucky, we do get a lot of talented athletes, but we also work hard for our success.”

That success has built over the years, culminating at last year’s Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championships. Humber came third, and had hoped to build off that success for a gold medal this year. However, medals are not what the athletes said drive them.

“Love for each other and love for the game” is what Newman said pushes the Hawks. “We wouldn’t be this dedicated to achieve something if we didn’t love it.”

The Hawks now look forward to next season, when they will try for their 11th OCAA win. “I’m pretty stoked about next year and what this team can do considering the number of returning athletes,” said Wilkins.

At least two athletes will not be coming back to the Hawks: Ashleigh Darrach and Alexandra Newman. Both graduate this year and plan to move on from volleyball.

“We’re losing a couple of key people…both those people are pretty quality individuals within our program and it’s gonna be tough to replace them,” Wilkins said.

Darrach and Newman both said they want to continue to be a part of the Hawks in some way. And Wilkins added that this is a great time to put their recruiting methods to use.

But even losing that talent, said Darrach, is not a problem for the team.

“We’ve had big superstars come through… but that doesn’t matter because we have depth.”

And that depth, said Darrach, is what will propel the team to its first CCAA victory next year.

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