EDMONTON – The two-time defending CIS champion Trinity Western Spartans are favoured by a majority of conference coaches to top the conference again in 2012-13.
Among the 12 coaches, eight voted TWU at the top, with Manitoba picking up three first-place votes and Alberta garnered one.
Here are the complete voting results, based on a 12-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 system (first-place votes in parentheses):
1. TWU (8) 124
2. Manitoba (3) 113
3. Alberta (1) 108
4. Brandon 80
5. Saskatchewan 75
6. UBC 73
7. Calgary 60
8. UBC Okanagan 52
9. Winnipeg 49
10. Thompson Rivers 38
11. Mount Royal 21
12. Regina 12
The Trinity Western Spartans lost just one match during the conference season, and won the conference and CIS titles last season. With a host of experienced and star student-athletes, including Jarrod Offereins, Steven Marshall, Brad Kufske, Dan Jansen Van Doorn, Nick Del Bianco and Lucas Van Berkel all returning, the Spartans are ready and loaded.
Manitoba and Alberta both qualified for Nationals last season, finishing third and sixth, respectively. The Bisons and Golden Bears each have a strong history of producing top contenders, making them among the favourites to challenge the Spartans this coming season. The Bears have much of the roster back, including Erik Mattson, Jarron Mueller,and Tristan Aubry. The Bisons also see several top players coming back, including Chris Voth, Derek Nieroda, Joseph Brooks and Chris Komishon.
After taking CIS silver two seasons ago, the Brandon Bobcats were unable to overcome the graduation of some key players and made a relatively quick playoff exit last spring. The return of Garrett Popplestone and Scott Neufeld are key to this season.
The Saskatchewan Huskies and UBC Thunderbirds placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Canada West preseason coaches’ ranking. The former posted just four wins in 20 matches, while the latter narrowly made the post-season with a .500 record last year. The Huskies have fared well in preseason, including wins over Alberta, Calgary and Winnipeg. Jarrid Ireland and Ian Perry return to what will be a young T-Birds squad in 2012-13.
Placing mid-pack in the poll are the Calgary Dinos, which have placed (in order) first, third and fifth at CIS Nationals the past three years. With no fifth-year players on the roster, the Dinos look for solid player development in order to maintain the lofty level set in recent years.
For the UBC Okanagan Heat and Winnipeg Wesmen, the upcoming season is one of continued improvement. For UBCO, it marks their second season in Canada West after a very respectable 8-12 campaign that saw them squeak into the playoffs, and with Nate Speijer and other fifth-years this season brings even more promise. The Wesmen, which themselves won five more matches in 2011-12 that the previous season, will have just two players beyond third-year eligibility this season, a challenging position in the expanding and ever-competitive conference.
The Thompson Rivers WolfPack dropped from nine wins to three last year. Intriguing are recent preseason, five-set victories over Manitoba and UBC after tuning up earlier against defending champion TWU.
New to Canada West are the Mount Royal Cougars, making them an unknown after previously playing in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC). A five-set win over Trinity Western this past weekend must have some in the conference wondering if their preseason ranking was an underestimate.
The good news for the Regina Cougars, despite placing 12th and last in the preseason poll, is that they have improved their win total each of the past two seasons, to four. A host of fourth-year student-athletes will take to the court for the Cougars this year.
A complete Canada West men’s volleyball preview will be released later this week.