The pride of Mount Sicker Road, VIU’s Danielle Groenendijk, targets her hit during the CCAA gold-medal match against the Élans de Garneau in Quebec. (Photo by Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association)

Groenendijk and VIU surge to third straight national title in unusual circumstances

College volleyball tournament barely makes it to a conclusion before COVID-19 shutdowns

Before the full force of the COVID-19 virus hit, one of the final major sporting events staged in North America featured a third straight national volleyball championship for hometown Chemainus Valley athlete and Duncan Christian School grad Danielle Groenendijk and her Vancouver Island University Mariners teammates.

VIU captured another title at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Women’s National Volleyball Championships March 11-14 at Cegep Garneau, Quebec, and Groenendijk, as usual, played a prominent role.

To get there and even have the tournament completed was something of a miracle since all competitions were starting to shut down at that time.

Groenendijk noted the week was definitely an interesting one. The team had a full travel day to get to Quebec City and a practice at the facility to get used to the environment the next day. Following another practice at the gym on the Wednesday before the tournament, “we were informed that there would be no handshaking before or after the games and that if anyone had symptoms of COVID-19, the tournament would be cancelled immediately,” she noted.

The national banquet was held on the evening before competition started and Groenendijk was in the spotlight. She received a CCAA All-Canadian award, which is only awarded to 10 female volleyball athletes within the CCAA, composed of five conferences. The top two athletes from each conference, voted by the coaches based on the athlete’s performance throughout regular season play, received the All-Canadian award.

The tournament opener saw VIU handle the Lynx d’Edourd Montpetit of Quebec in straight sets, 25-15, 25-18, 25-18. Groenendijk had 10 kills in that game.

“After the game was over a tournament organizer from the host school starts making an announcement in French, I realize I should have kept up my French after completing French class because I was not able to understand much of what he was saying,” Groenendijk indicated.

“The announcement was translated for us and we found out that no spectators would be allowed, except for close family members. Some of us had family members that had travelled to Quebec to watch us, so we were relieved that they would still be able to watch and cheer us on in person.”

That evening, Groenendijk explained their group found out the CCAA basketball nationals being held the following week were cancelled and the USport National championships were also cancelled, even though teams had already travelled to the venues.

On the morning of March 13, VIU had a short practice and found out the CCAA committee was meeting to decide if the tournament would continue. It was decided to proceed and only the seventh/eighth place game would be cancelled.

“Upon hearing this, I was filled with thankfulness and was excited to continue to go for the national gold,” enthused Groenendijk. “I think that the reason why they did not cancel the tournament was because we had already started the tournament before everything really blew up.”

After beating the Fanshawe Falcons 25-17, 19-25, 25-14, 25-22 in the semifinals with Groenendijk contributing 15 kills, it was on to the final.

“Our whole season leading up to nationals consisted of various challenges,” she pointed out. “There were multiple ferry cancellations/delays due to weather and even a broken-down bus. The situation with COVID-19 was just another challenge for us to work through as a team. Once we found out that the tournament was a go, we were able to celebrate as a team and embrace the last few days we had together.

“The hardest part was that so much was changing in the world with regards to events and trips being cancelled and continuous spread of COVID-19. If we weren’t playing on the court, we were constantly surrounded by news and talk about COVID-19. When we were playing, it was a chance to step out and not focus on what was going on in the world. Each of us focused on our goal as a team and worked hard together to accomplish that goal.”

The Mariners defeated the Élans de Garneau in Saturday’s final 22-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-17, in front of an intimate family-members-only crowd. The final two games of the tournament were played in front of a gymnasium mostly emptied due to COVID-19 precautions.

The win gave the Mariners not only their third straight national title, but capped an undefeated season with a 29-0 record.

Groenendijk had planned to transfer out of the CCAA and into USport in the fall, but has decided to stay put at VIU.

“I have loved all the teams I have played on and I enjoy completing my secondary education at VIU as well,” she noted. “I could not imagine playing for another team. I am very thankful for my teammates, coaches, friends and family that provide me with endless amounts of support. I am excited for next year as my role as a leader increases and we have the opportunity to continue to make history.”

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Winning a third straight CCAA national women’s volleyball title is sweet for the VIU Mariners. That’s Danielle Groenendijk, third from the right in the back row. (Photo by Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association)

Celebrating CCAA national titles never gets old for Danielle Groenendijk and the VIU Mariners women’s volleyball team. (Photo by Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association)

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