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PREVIEW: New coach, returning faces headline 2018-19 season opener

PREVIEW: New coach, returning faces headline 2018-19 season opener

The Niagara Knights women's volleyball program returns to action for their 2018-19 regular season opener on Saturday, October 20th against the visiting Fanshawe Falcons. 

Coming off of an impressive run in the OCAA Championship a year ago that saw the women take home a silver medal, the Knights' will look to continue their recent success, having found the podium in each of the past four OCAA Championships. The opening game sets the stage for a season that will culminate at the national championship, as Niagara will welcome Canada's best for the 2019 CCAA Women's Volleyball Championship in March. 

Niagara has some familiar faces returning to the court this season, including Jordan Koslowski (Hamilton) who has climbed her way near the top of the Niagara Knights' record books in her first three seasons so far. Entering the year, Koslowski has 506 kills, just 50 short of former Knight Ginni Lord's record that was set between 1999 and 2003. Koslowski also looks to break the career record for points, coming into the season with 641 in her career, 38 shy of Tracy Smith's record set between 2001 and 2005.

Natasha Desjardins (Welland) will also be returning for her second season in a Knights uniform. She was a major addition to the program a year ago, contributing all season long, including in the gold medal match of the OCAA Championship where she was named the Knights' player of the match. Desjardins role will likely expand this season, as she will help fill the void of losing former outside hitter Rachel Rivers.

Another key returnee is Zeniah Pinnock (Tonroto), as the outside hitter enters her second year with the program. Pinnock, along with Koslowski and Desjardins, will make up the three team captains for the 2018-19 year. The choice to make them captain came from a new voice on the bench, as the Knights welcome new head coach Natasha Spaling

"I am very grateful to be a part of this team," said Spaling on joining the Knights' program. "This is an excellent group of athletes and people. I am looking forward to a great season on the court." 

Spaling, having spent the past two seasons as the assistant coach for the University of Alberta Pandas, has also spent time coaching youth level indoor and beach volleyball in both Ontario and Alberta. On top of all of her in-game coaching experience, Spaling also graduated from the Masters of Coaching program at the University of Alberta and has also been involved as a coach within the Volleyball Canada Centre for Excellence.

"We have worked so hard throughout the preseason," said Spaling. "These young women have put in so much effort on and off the court to prepare for the season. As a team, we have set high standards for ourselves in practice and in the class room and we aim to improve every day that we set foot in the gym."

Spaling is also excited to welcome back a solid group of returning players including Middle Blocker Kelsey Soules (Hamilton), Middle Blocker Tamara Edwards (Vineland), Libero Ainsleigh McInnes-Williams (Mount Hope) and Setter Melissa McFadden (Hannon).

On top of the Knights veteran core that is returning, they will also welcome an abundance of first-year players including key recruits such as Setter Montanna Taylor (St. Catharines), Libero Madelyn Berg (St. Catharines) and Outside Hitter Olivia Burnie (Orillia). Also joining them are Libero Taylor Morrison (Hamilton), Middle Blocker Veronika Latawiec (Toronto) and Outside Hitter Anica Haberstock (Vernon, BC).

"We are going to face a lot of competitive and strong teams this year," said first year setter Montanna Taylor. "But with how hard we have been working, and will continue to work, I feel we have a real shot at doing a lot of good things. We have already gotten so much better within the first few weeks together and I'm excited to see what kind of team we will become."

All-in-all, the combination of key returning players as well as some fresh faces and a talented up-and-coming coach, the Knights will look to not only continue their recent success with OCAA medals, but to take that next step of bringing home a gold-medal on route to hosting the national championship. 

The Knights open their season this Saturday, October 20th against the Fanshawe Falcons with the opening serve scheduled for 1:00pm at the Welland Campus Athletic Centre. Admission is free for all students, which admission for the public is $5. The game will be broadcast live at www.goknights.ca/watchlive.