SFU volleyball navigates turbulent times during transition period

Head coach Gina Schmidt and her team leave no room to dwell on losses

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photo of Hanna Kolof celebrating after winning a point.
PHOTO: Wilson Wong / SFU Athletics

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

The SFU volleyball team has faced tough competition so far during their 2022–23 regular season, recording 12 wins and 13 losses heading into their last week of regular season play. While the team is five wins behind what they were last season, this year’s squad has managed to pull off some outstanding feats, including taking down the nationally-ranked Alaska Anchorage in October. The Peak reached out to head coach Gina Schmidt and sophomore outside hitter and defensive specialist Hanna Kolof to learn more about that victory, and how the team has worked together to move past losses this season. 

At the time of their match-up, Alaska Anchorage was ranked ninth in the nation. Since then, they’ve climbed up into the fifth position. Kolof described the win as “an incredible feeling knowing our team was able to do something no one else in our conference has been able to do. We’ve worked hard all season and have trusted the process, so it feels great when we get rewarded with a win like that.” 

SFU certainly hasn’t been rewarded with their schedule, being dealt “one of the toughest preseason schedules in [their] conference.” This included facing off against multiple opponents ranked in the top 25 nationally. Though the team recorded 13 losses, they “played 10 five-set matches this year,” with 40% of their matchups requiring a tie-breaker set to determine the winner.

Head coach Schmidt runs her team on a forward-thinking model. Win or lose, players walk away from a match understanding what worked to their advantage. “We either win or we learn,” Schimdit said, “I’d prefer to always focus on the positives rather than the negatives.” This mentality helps keep the team focused on the games ahead. It also demonstrates a certain level of trust Schmidt has in her players to understand what they could have done better, and how they can correct it before the next match. 

Playing games, sometimes multiple, on a weekly basis also leaves players with little time to collect themselves before the next game: an endless cycle of rinse, wash, and repeat. This is why Kolof “likes to reflect, but not sulk in a loss.” 

“Our season is very fast paced. It’s important to stay focused on the next games ahead, while also reflecting on what we can do better to get a win the following week.”

Alongside challenging opponents, the Red Leafs have also suffered from multiple injuries, propelling newer and lesser-experienced players into bigger roles. Despite adjusting on the fly, Schimdt believes the team “has responded well.” This has been the case for the new setters stepping into the place of last year’s cornerstone, Julia Tays. Aside from filling big shoes, Schmidt acknowledged that “it always takes time for [the] setter/hitter connection to get locked in.” But, she added that the team have “spent a lot of time working on that component of our game” and “seen [their] numbers improve accordingly.” 

Coach Schmidt explained that in a season like this one, when the team has faced tough competition and losses early on, the “goal is to always learn from the experience and focus on how we can be better the next time.

“We try to stay focused on the things we can control and keep working to get better every day. And I think this continued focus on the process has shown in our team’s results in the second half of conference play.”

The Red Leafs will play their last two GNAC games on the road, taking on Seattle Pacific University and Montana State Billings. Heading into the last weekend of conference play, Schmidt says the team strategy is, as always, “to stay focused on the present,” noting that “anxiety or fear only creeps in if players are thinking about the past or worrying about the future.”