Larry Read

(ISN) – Kamloops, BC—Although they didn’t qualify for the Canada West post season, the 2014-15 campaign has been a successful one for the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack women’s volleyball program.

Under the direction of Chad Grimm, the WolfPack broke a 44 game league winless drought and captured 10 victories this season. As well, a new ‘positive’ attitude on and off the court also translated into increased attendance at home matches.
Grimm felt his first year at the helm was an adjustment for both the players and himself,but he was satisfied with the 10-14 record. “Performance wise it was obviously nice to get that first win out of the way against a strong Calgary team (second weekend of regular season) to put to rest that two and a half year losing streak. Winning the home opener against my alma mater and perennial powerhouse UBC was also special for our group.”
The coach says a major victory away from the standings was just a changing in philosophy. “Just altering our level of expectation and believing that we are good enough not only compete with, but also beat the best teams in the country has been the biggest challenge. I told the girls after the season that we went from a team only five short months ago which was very fragile and overcome with emotion after winning a scrimmage against a PACWEST squad to a team that felt we could have been in the Canada West playoffs. This tells me that we have come a long way in a short time and have been able to increase our personal and team expectations that will ultimately help push us in the off season and into next year.”
Grimm felt the biggest surprise of his crew was how they dealt with adversity and were willing to play the ‘the hand they were dealt’ to the best of their ability.
He is referring to injuries which plagued the team late in the first half and into the second half of the season. At one point, all three of the team’s middles were on the sidelines injured. Then, they lost arguably the top player in Canada in Iuliia Pakomenko (third year, outside hitter, Donetsk, Ukraine) with a knee problem. “Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have a lot of depth at certain positions which made it an interesting puzzle to work out for the players and coaches alike. For about a third of the season, we had one middle or less available to us so we had to be flexible as a group. This is where I think I saw that our team had turned the corner mentally and started to believe in ourselves again. I think many teams would start to lose belief when key players go down, but we managed to focus on our jobs and be successful in situations in which we had no control over. That was great to see.”
When he looks at the biggest surprise personnel wise, Grimm looks at two players. “The flexibility of all our players was a big positive for us. We have Bri (Brianne Rauch, third year, Kimberly, BC) playing middle for a large chunk of the season. Kara (Twomey, third year, setter, Winnipeg, MB) was setting and blocking out of the middle. Neither one of them had done this before. They led by example and were willing to do whatever it took to help the team be successful.”
Pakhomenko’s arrival from U.S. College was a major dividend. She was named to the Canada West first all-star team (the first WolfPack women’s player to achieve that honor). She also was Canada West first all-star of the week winner twice and runner up once. He also was among the top three in the CIS in kills and kills per set. “Not only is Iuliia a great player, but I think more importantly she is a great person. She has been able to overcome much adversity this year and was still able to perform at a high level throughout the season. I don’t think a lot of people realize or take the time to think about how difficult it must be for a young athlete to be so far from home. Add to that, Iuliia is also in a special circumstance in which the unrest that is taking place in the Ukraine makes it even more difficult when you are concerned about the safety of your loved ones each and every day. The other layer to that is she is studying in a difficult Master’s program in her second language which is difficult for anyone for anybody, let alone a varsity athlete. She was also able to overcome a knee surgery over the Christmas break and miss only two matches because of her dedication to her rehab.”
Grimm continued: “With all this being said, I think it is clear that Iuliia’s accomplishments off the court may be even greater than on, which is truly impressive. I was happy to see her get a first team all-star selection and it is well deserved. I know that if women’s volleyball held an NHL style draft and I was holding the number one pick, taking Iuliia would be a ‘no brainer”.
The future is very bright for the WolfPack program. Coach Grimm said all of his rookies worked hard and will set the tone for the program moving forward. As he looks at the holdovers from the team he took over with three weeks left in the 2013-14 campaign, he has seen them grow in developing their game sense and making better athletic decisions.
“I know within our group we believe in the direction we are taking,’ Grimm states. ” I think that the program includes more than ‘on court’ performance and I have been happy with the contributions our girls have made and continue to make in the community.”
And he adds: “We have made some big strides this season and it has lit a fire under our players to push hard in the off season in order to make the next step when we hit the court again in September. In order to think about things such as playoffs however, we have to realize that there are teams ahead of us who want to stay there and in order to take their spot we will have to pay the price in the off season and that is much easier said than done. I do know, however, that we have a dedicated group that raised their expectation levels this season and will be looking to improve heading into the 2015-16 campaign.”
As he sets out to recruit for that year, the coach has some firm thoughts on areas to improve upon. “Obviously, the middle position is very thin for us right now so I am looking to add some depth in that area. Overall though, I am looking to make our team stronger so any players that can do that would be an option to add to our current group.”