October 24, 2013, VANCOUVER (ISN) – The UBC Thunderbirds are a team that’s trending up. Head coach Richard Schick has led a pattern of improvement over the last three seasons that his team is working to continue in 2013-14.
Since a 4-14 campaign in 2009-10, UBC has bettered its win total every year, finishing at 7-11 in 2010-11, 10-10 in 2011-12 and 15-7 last season, which earned UBC its first home playoff series since 2008. In that series at War Memorial Gym, they beat the Manitoba Bisons in two games to advance to the Canada West Final Four for the first time in five years.
“It has a lot to do with the attitude of the players and the personnel that we have here and the expectations they hold,” commented UBC head coach Richard Schick. “To make that steady climb is what any coach wants, for their team to improve. It doesn’t always happen that way.
“The players have to want it a lot, to sacrifice and make the changes that maybe we see that they need them to make. A group working together to accomplish a goal is a lot stronger than one or two individuals.”
Schick also highlighted the team’s chemistry.
“They enjoy each other a lot,” he said. “They enjoy playing for each other, which is extremely important in any sport. They hang out a lot away from the game and I think when you’re friends off the court, it says a lot about the relationship on the court.”
Just about everyone from last season’s team is back, led by a core group of third and fourth-year players.
Libero Ian Perry was fourth in the Canada West in digs last season while middle Chris Howe, who played his first season with UBC last year, was second in the Canada West in blocks.
The team was also second in the league in that category as it also had Alex Russell, who placed fourth in the conference in blocks and is part of a talented collection of players entering their third year of eligibility at UBC. In addition to Russell, setter Milan Nikic and outside hitter Jarrid Ireland played for Canada’s Junior National Team for the second straight year.
“The training you get with Team Canada is pretty valuable,” said Nikic, who was the Canadian team captain. “There are two-a-days for two and a half months preparing for competition so you don’t have school or other things to worry about; it’s just volleyball and you definitely benefit from it.”
“It is also a big help coming back to UBC as the chemistry is better from playing together with Alex and Jarrid more often. It’s very cool to come back here with the experience of seeing how different countries play in different kinds of system, and trying to do well with the T-Birds.”
Nikic says wearing the maple leaf is a dream come true.
“It was an honour to have a chance to do it two years in a row,” he said. “It is my first world competition and it was very cool playing countries around the world. It’s the type of stuff I’ve watched since I was a little kid so it was a very proud moment to get to represent my country and compete.”
Another outside hitter, third year Ben Chow, saw success on the beach, winning gold at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
To cap off his performance and to honour his commitment as a coach of the Fraser Valley Zone 3 team at the 2012 B.C. Summer Games, Chow was chosen as the Team B.C. flag bearer for the closing ceremonies.
Gabriel Aaron, Noah Derksen and Quentin Schmidt are all expected to challenge for the last outside spot.
Mac McNicol, a middle who is entering his second year, also came home from Sherbrooke with gold after leading Team Alberta to the indoor volleyball championship.
The team’s two fifth-year seniors are middle Parker Jobin, who’s a student in his first year in the Doctor of Medicine program, and setter Austin Hinchey, captain of Canada’s national Sitting Volleyball Team.
Schick’s latest recruits, all from B.C., have shown well in the pre-season.
The four newcomers, Will Dichuk, Mat Guidi, Irvan Brar, Joel Regehr, played for Team B.C., coached by UBC assistant Matt Lebourdais, at the National Team Challenge Cup in Gatineau, Que.
Outsides Brar, Guidi and Dichuk will look to learn from as well as push the vets to help raise the level of competition within the team.
Middle Regehr is the son of former UBC women’s head coach Donna Baydock, who was also his high school coach at Mark Isfeld Secondary in Courtenay. The top seven teams in the Canada West will make the league playoffs this season. From there, two schools along with tournament host Calgary will advance to the CIS men’s volleyball championship. So there are just two spots for a league that has four teams in the top five of the pre-season national rankings.
“We have high expectations of ourselves,” said Schick. “For us, from the end of our season last year, we expect to be there in the end this year. That’s big, because with those expectations come a lot of risk. We’re not going to surprise any teams, they’re going to see us coming and we’re going to see a lot with teams’ best games.”
UBC comes into the regular season having won two tournaments, Thunderball and the Thompson Rivers WolfPack Invitational, and eight of 10 matches against university competition.
The Thunderbirds open the season Friday night in Langley vs. Trinity Western and then will have their home opener the following night at 7 p.m. at War Memorial Gym against the same Spartans team.