They were rewarded at the last possible moment.
Yes, the payoff was late in arriving. But, at least MacKenzie Bouchard and her Concordia University College of Alberta Thunder teammates received some form of positive reinforcement for the work they put in this volleyball season.
In the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, Edmonton-based Concordia was in danger of losing all 20 of its matches. The team, however, spared itself of that indignity when it fought to a victory last weekend against the Augustana Vikings. In the contest, played Saturday night on Concordia's home court, the Thunder prevailed 28-26, 25-17, 25-27, 25-19.
"It was definitely a relief, more than anything," said the 18-year-old Bouchard, a 2012 graduate of Duchess Park secondary school. "A lot of people were stressed out about it, [the possibility of] not winning any [matches] over an entire season. That definitely does not look good."
Knowing they were down to their last chance for a victory, the Thunder players brought a little extra to the court against the Vikings.
"Our whole team played amazing," said Bouchard, who is a libero or defensive specialist. "Our defence has been lacking in comparison to other teams and our players -- especially our power players -- were making saves that I've never seen them make before. They were just playing so well. And our offence was so much better. Everyone was hitting really hard."
At the end of the match, emotions got the better of some of the Thunder players.
"A couple of the girls on the team were crying just because they were so happy and they're not coming back next year," Bouchard said. "They were really proud that our team came through at the end and our coaches were really proud too. They said they had hoped for more success earlier on in the season but they were excited that we ended on a good note."
The women's volleyball program at Concordia was in just its third season at the ACAC level and the majority of the players on the 2012-13 roster were college rookies. Bouchard herself was offered a spot on the team after she attended a tryout camp last March.
Even with all the disappointments the Thunder suffered during the regular schedule, Bouchard still enjoyed the experience of being a student-athlete. And, now that she and the other returning players know what it takes to win, she's even more excited about the future.
"Augustana won five matches this season, and beating them at the end, I think we can take that momentum and actually be successful next season," said Bouchard, who studies sciences when she's not on the volleyball court. "I think instead of developing, we'll be more of a threat to the better teams next year."