(ISN) – Kamloops, BC—The first half of the 2014-15 Canada West men’s volleyball season has not developed the way Pat Hennelly had anticipated.
The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack head coach was hoping that he could build upon their bronze medal finish in last year’s league final four.
Instead, a combination of injuries to veteran players has the WolfPack entering the pre-Christmas break sitting in a tie for ninth spot with five wins and 11 losses.
“The first half has been a struggle to get consistency on the court and in our line ups,” he says.” We had 32 matches missed by players in our top 9. It has been the most injured plagued semester I have had in the past 10 years along with the longest. We have looked great at times and other times we have struggled.”
Granted, the WolfPack had a tough schedule in the first half. Most of the opponents have been in the CIS top 10 rankings this year. “. I like our team when we are all on the floor and the weekends against Brandon, UBC, Winnipeg, Alberta and Manitoba we have shown we can play with the best in our conference. We knew this semester would be tough and the injuries to key guys certainly made it all the more difficult.”
Hennelly says the injuries—specifically to Casey Knight (5th year, outside hitter, Salt Spring Island, BC) to start the season and then to lose CIS Player of the Year Brad Gunter (4th year, outside hitter, Courtenay, BC) in the first weekend of the year –were devastating. But it gave the chance for younger players to see the court and get experience. “No one has taken better advantage of that then Randy Grundmann (2nd year, outside hitter, Winnipeg, MB). He is showing his potential in this league with improvement in all aspects of his game, and I put him up there with any second year outside hitter in the league this year. Randy is 14th in Canada West in kills/set (2.91) and hitting at a .254 efficiency. Randy had the opportunity to play the entire preseason and every match in the first half. It was a priority to get good young players like Randy and Jordan Foot (2nd year, middle, Prince George, BC) some court time, and the injuries have certainly made that part easier. “
Foot stands 16 th in the Canada West in blocks (0.94 per set)
Knight returned and sits 8 th in the Canada West in points (4.2 per set, 15 th in kills (4.0 per set) and 25 th in the league in hitting percentage (.254).
Gunter stands 12 th in kills (5.5 per set). He would be leading the Canada West but does qualify for stats due to a league change where players have to participate in 60 per cent of the team’s games.
Other WolfPack players among the Canada West leaders in stats are Graham Stoliker (2nd year, setter, Surrey, BC) who is seventh in assists (9.15 per set) and Matt Krueger (5th year, libero, Abbotsford, BC) who is 13 th in digs (9.4).
As Hennelly looks ahead to the second half of the season: “The second half is certainly easier with only two road trips and a bye. We do have some tough opponents still, Mt Royal and Saskatchewan are both ahead of us and looking good for a playoff spot. With 5 wins we do not have any room for error, I believe you will have to be over .500 this year to make playoffs. We have to stay focused on every match with the two first weekends must wins with Grant McEwan and UBC Okanagan behind us in the standing. I hope we can be healthy and stable through the second term. If we play to our potential the results will take care of themselves.”
The WolfPack will prepare for the second half by hosting a four team exhibition tournament including Budo, Japan at the Tournament Capital Centre starting January 2nd.
Their first regular season matches are January 10 -11, 2015 against the Griffins at MacEwan in Edmonton. They then return home for back to back weekend’s against Mount Royal and UBCO beginning January 16 th.
SIDE OUTS: Hennelly on if he would change anything aside from the injuries in the first half: “The first half may have been heavy with exhibition play. We will have to look at our schedule for next year and decide if playing or training is a smarter option.”