The road to the national championship got a lot longer each time, but the result was the same for Danielle Groenendijk and her Vancouver Island University Mariners.
The Duncan Christian School grad and resident of Mount Sicker Road near Chemainus capped a remarkable career with the VIU women’s volleyball team after it won a fourth consecutive Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association title in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Groenendijk was a rookie on the team when the remarkable streak started in 2018 in Grand Prairie, Alberta. The tournament sites kept heading east, but VIU continued winning in 2019 at Niagara Falls, Ont., 2020 at Quebec City and again in 2022 on PEI. There was no season or national tournament in 2021 due to COVID.
Three other players besides Groenendijk have been part of all four national titles, Maddie McDonald, Kayla Passmore and Keira Christenson.
“I would say, for sure, it’s a bit of a blur,” said Groenendijk, looking back at her career that actually spanned five years with the COVID interrupted season that still included practice and workout sessions, but not games.
“Each year, the team is a bit different. It’s really cool to be able to always finish off strong.”
The team’s ability to integrate newcomers into the nucleus each time was a key to success.
“I think we always had a lot of potential,” said Groenendijk. “We obviously had a very strong work ethic, work with one another and trust one another. Play hard and have fun, that’s a pretty big emphasis on our team.”
VIU defeated the Douglas College Royals of New Westminster three sets to one in the gold-medal match Sunday, March 27. The M’s didn’t play their best in the final, said coach Shane Hyde, but played with a championship mentality and won 25-22, 25-17, 21-25, 25-23.
“We definitely had this attitude that we weren’t going to let it slip away,” Hyde said.
It was a case of deja vu for Groenendijk and her other teammates from the first year when VIU lost to Douglas in the PacWest provincials but rallied to win the nationals.
“We always won the one that really mattered, the national one,” said Groenendijk.
This year, after the Mariners were defeated in the PacWest provincial final by the Royals, they relied on a wild-card berth to get to the CCAA championships.
“When we lost in the PacWest finals, we knew that we weren’t 100 per cent and it was weird, everybody kind of gave up on our team … nobody really talked about how we were three-time national champs and how we were ranked No. 1 all season,” said Hyde.
He added the Mariners didn’t mind “hiding in the shadows,” though, and knew that they still had every opportunity in their season-long pursuit of a “legendary” achievement.
Groenendijk was hampered by an injury during this year’s provincials, but played through it at obviously less than her usual 100 per cent capability.
“I rolled my ankle pretty bad in February,” she explained. “I was out for a couple of weeks.
“When we lost in the provincial final, we knew we didn’t have the full squad.”
The three weeks between the provincials and nationals was crucial.
“In that time, I was able to recover,” said Groenendijk.
She made her impact on the national tournament as a first team all-star along with teammates Linnea Brickwood and Jane Lytvynenko. Outside hitter Lytvynenko, who is from Ukraine, had missed most of provincials as the Russian invasion and concern for her family were foremost in her thoughts.
Amid fundraising and doing what she could to help, Lytvynenko turned her focus to volleyball for nationals, winning MVP honours.
The Mariners defeated the Lynx d’Édouard-Montpetit in the quarterfinals three sets to one, then played “air-tight” volleyball in the semifinals to beat a tough Red Deer Queens team in straight sets.
Groenendijk was also honoured to receive an exemplary leadership award at the tournament.
Her time at VIU culminates with her graduation in June with a Bachelor of Science degree, with a major in biology and a minor in kinesiology. As for volleyball, Groenendijk’s VIU career has ended but she might not be done with the sport at a high level just yet.
“I’m hoping to go play professional volleyball in Europe,” she said. “I’m just trying to find out the logistics for that.”
On a personal level, Groenendijk became engaged to Ben Westwood on Jan. 27 and will be getting married in July.
– with a file from Greg Sakaki, Nanaimo News Bulletin.