Kamloops, BC—Building on the momentum. That’s the goal of the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s volleyball team as they hit the road for Canada West matches this weekend in Regina.
The WolfPack (5-11) will meet the University of Regina Cougars (1-15) Friday and Saturday (Jan 22-23).
“We are at five wins, Mount Royal is at seven and Trinity Western is at eight,” said WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly. “That seventh spot (in the Canada West standings and last playoff berth) is still mathematically still there. This is a great weekend. Trinity goes to Manitoba and Saskatchewan plays Mount Royal. There is still a lot of volleyball to be played and we would need a lot of wins to be in a race. It’s quite interesting.”
Hennelly says the WolfPack and the Cougars have had a bit of a history. “Regina has beaten us quite a few times over the last few years so we are focusing on this weekend and changing that. Going on the road in Canada West is always tough. Our focus is to get wins and to build on what happened Saturday night.”
Last Saturday (Jan 16), Thompson Rivers downed Saskatchewan in five sets. Hennelly says it was a big win for more than the obvious reasons. “I think every guy was relieved about getting a win. It makes everyone feel good about themselves. We followed that up with a great session with Trevor Ragan (Train Ugly founder) for three hours talking about how to approach the game, stressful situations in volleyball and life. It really resonated with the guys. We are looking forward to polishing it up on the road and coming away with some victories).
Brad Gunter (5th year, outside hitter, Courtenay, BC) stands second in the Canada West again this week in kills (244) and kills per set (4.44). He is tied for fourth place in service aces per set (0.33). Teammate Graham Stoliker (5th year, setter, Surrey, BC) is fourth in assists per set (9.36).
Hennelly says while his first year middles have impressed this season there have been some others who have developed their skill set over the course of the year. “Charlie (Bringloe, outside hitter, Waterloo, ON) is a guy who has trained really well in practice and Josh Mullaney (1st year, outside hitter, Calgary,AB) has done some things that people saw on Saturday with a big block and actually set a ball. We have these guys who are excellent athletes. It is always tough to get first year guys on the floor. Obviously, experience counts and mistakes are made when you don’t have that experience. We are always looking for good young players onto the court. That is part of the way to build a program.”
Hennelly adds: “ We switch our lineups according to ability. I don’t believe in a set lineup for the whole year. I think you have to come out and earn your time. Our line up right now—especially the way the season is going—is still in a competitive phase. I don’t think you will see the same look repeatedly because we have lots of internal competition on our team. We have lots of guys who can beat out anyone else on a given week. I try to encourage that competitiveness.”
Mullaney came in as a ‘blocking specialist’ in the five set victory over Saskatchewan. That is a luxury the WolfPack haven’t had for a while.
“We have used different guys in that role but it is tough to switch out a setter and not have a guy who could do that on the floor,” Hennelly explains. “We have used middle blockers before. In the past we utilized guys like Andy Haley or Josh Boruck—good athletes we have had on the team. It is usually a one shot thing. Josh was able to get a couple of blocks for us. He had some extended play. “
Hennelly continued: “We brought Tyler (Pometliarz, 2nd year setter, Kelowna, BC) came in at the same time and Josh went front row. What we haven’t had is a guy in that position (outside hitter) that is 6’7” like Josh. He is bigger guy than Gord Perrin (former WolfPack star now with Canada’s Senior National team and playing pro in Italy) on the left side. His skills set and ability to block shines in practice. We try to utilize that as well as Isaac Smit (2nd year, Kelowna, BC) in the back row as a tactical move.”
He added that something the WolfPack have had this year that is unusual for them is an improved ability to serve. “In the past, we have subbed a lot of middles out for serving. But Kyle (Behliels-1st year, Edmonton, AB), Sam (Taylor Parks, 1st year, Kelowna, BC) and Jordan (Foot, 3rd year, Prince George, BC) have all really produced from the service line. In fact, they are some of our more consistent guys in terms of making serves and putting the other team in trouble. That has been a pleasant surprise. It creates a chance to have some subs come in for front row blocking. In the past, four of our six subs have been for serving and that doesn’t give you a lot of freedom. You want to keep one sub for late in the game in case a guy is struggling on the back row or needs a breather. It has really freed me up as a coach.”
After this weekend, the WolfPack return home to the Warner Rentals Court at the Tournament Capital Centre to face the Manitoba Bisons on January 29th and 30th.