Kamloops, BC- The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack got out to a great start but confidence problems got the best of them again in Canada West men’s volleyball play.

The WolfPack won the first set and were close to winning the second but wound up losing 3-1 to the visiting University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The scores on Friday (Jan 15) on the Warner Rentals Court at the Tournament Capital Centre were 23-25,28-26,25-18,25-19. 

Saskatchewan improves to 8-7 on the year while TRU drops to 4-11.

“We had opportunities in the second set,” stated WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly. “We fought back and got big plays from Kyle (Behliels, 1st year, middle, Edmonton, AB) and Randy (Grundmann, 3rd year, outside hitter, Winnipeg, MB). We just got a little shaky on serve-receive in the end and made some mistakes on blocks and had errors.  It is frustrating. Last year, we would have pulled it out. It is unfortunate that we can’t shake the nerves and we can’t see the other team is in the same spot as we are. We are beating ourselves. I thought that second set was ours.”

He added” Collectively we don’t have much confidence and we are battling ourselves as much as the other team right now.”

“That second set was pretty huge for us to come back,” explained Huskies head coach Brian Gavlas   “Being down and close to being out two zero. We found a way to squeeze that one out and it boosted our confidence. We started to get a few more blocks and it carried over for us in the third set.”

The Huskies were led by Jordan Nowakowski who had 17 kills in 39 swings with a serving ace, seven digs and a block assist.

“He played very well,” explained Gavlas. “The setter found him in certain situations. That is something we haven’t been doing quite as often this year. He is our fifth year guy on that side and we expect him to do well.”

CJ Gavlas (1st year, setter, Saskatoon, SK) had 36 assists, two digs and five block assists.  His father/coach says it’s not been an adjustment balancing both roles. “We don’t talk too much about volleyball unless something specific that comes out. I treat him like any other player.  I thought he spread the ball fairly well tonight. He did some good things at the serving line and set a relatively decent game.”

TRU was led by Grundmann who had 16 kills in 31 opportunities with a service ace, seven digs and two block assists. Hennelly felt he had one of his better matches of the year. “He came out fired up today and was really going for it.”

Brad Gunter (5th year, outside hitter, Courtenay, BC) had 10 kills in 27 chances with a service ace, eight digs and two block assists. Graham Stoliker (5th year, setter, Surrey,BC) had 40 assists and six digs.  Brandon Hewwing (5th year, outside hitter, Calgary, AB) had a team high nine digs.

Hennelly gave credit to his first year middles (Behliels and Sam Taylor Parks (Kelowna, BC)) for playing ‘beyond their years’.  “Both were excellent tonight. If you would have told me at the start of the year that our middles were going to be great down the stretch I would have likely laughed at that. They were steady again tonight and they were steady last weekend.  Kyle had a big game at the net and a couple of nice hits and serves.  That is a real bright spot for the future of the program.”

Behliels was named the “TRU Bookstore/McDonalds Leader of the Pack” player of the match. He had five kills in seven chances with a service ace, four digs, a solo block and two block assists.  Taylor Parks had five kills in 12 swings with two service aces and four block assists.

The WolfPack bench boss says middle is one of the toughest positions to adjust to coming out of high school. “For sure, in high school or club you have one or two primary threats. Here you have balanced offense on every team and there are big middles across the net. Setter and middle are two toughest spots to make the transition.  At times I am shocked at how well these guys have done.”

The teams will close out their series Saturday (Jan 15) with at 6:45 pm match at the TCC. Gavlas says it’ll be another big match with playoff implications.  “Another typical weekend in Canada West. We tell these guys at the start of the year that there is no more important match than the next one. It’s the way it is. Last year we were .500 and we finished in 8th place.  The year before we were .500 and finished fifth. There is no give. Every weekend, every match is important in the standings.