DAVID LARKINS, Wesmen Athletics
Best friends throughout their volleyball careers, Taylor McGillivray and Jaya Dzikowicz aren't going their separate ways just yet.
The Grade 12 Dakota Collegiate students, who co-captained the Lancers to a provincial AAAA varsity girls title in November, have both signed national letters of intent to play their university volleyball with the Winnipeg Wesmen women's program.
Both student-athletes will enroll in the Faculty of Arts and have five years of eligibility.
They join a 2020 recruiting class that already includes Transcona middle blocker Christine Kolbuck and Leo Remillard setter Breanne Bazin.
Both McGillivray and Dzikowicz were named graduating all-stars and to the all-Manitoba team following a dominant Lancers' season, with McGillivray capturing the Mike Burchuk MVP award as the top high school player in the province. McGillivray, a 6-foot middle blocker, was also an all-star at the provincial championship.
Dzikowicz is a 6-foot left side who was ranked fourth — and tops among seniors — in this year's Winnipeg Sun provincial coaches' poll. She was also an honourable mention as a Grade 11 in the 2018 poll.
Dzikowicz said she'd long hoped for the chance to play university volleyball with her close friend.
"It is very exciting to be able to play with my best friend," she said. "This is something we've been dreaming of since we were in sixth grade. It's crazy and we've talked about it a lot.
"Both of us had some other options, so it was exciting to see the end goal of us now getting to play together because we weren't sure what was going to happen."
McGillivray, who was ranked fifth overall in this year's coaches' poll, said the connection on the court and off is a real one.
"I've always played with Jaya and we have such good chemistry on the court, and she's always been my best friend," McGillivray said. "Having her there was the thing that pulled me in and finished it. It just felt right."
Wesmen interim head coach Phil Hudson, the longtime former Dakota teacher and coach, said both players will have an opportunity to make an impact.
"(Jaya) is the best graduating outside hitter," Hudson said. "She hits the ball heavy at a level that is already a university level as far as attacking. She's had a lot of experience playing in big games … she's had great coaching. She's a very well-rounded player and she has a very live arm and hits the ball heavy like you need to at the university level.
"(Taylor) might be one of the best skilled middle players that I've seen come out of high school. She can pass, she plays defence, she's got a good serve, so she can transition into another position if we need to her. She's very skilled, jumps very well and her knowledge of volleyball is very high. She's going to be a great addition. Any time you can get the player of the year, I think it's a huge asset."
Dzikowicz said she's the type of player who will step into any role.
"I would say I'm a very passionate player. I play from my heart and for my team," she said. "I think I bring good energy to the team and I'm always willing to do as much as I can for the team."
McGillivray said she's "ready to take that step" to the next level and is excited it can be with her hometown team.
"I made a highlight video and I sent it around to a bunch of schools and I got a lot of replies," she said, "but, ultimately, just being home and playing for my hometown was something that I wanted to do.
"… U of W is the only one I wanted to go to."