Kamloops, BC—Something to prove. That could be the ‘mantra” for the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s volleyball team in 2016-17.
As the Canada West regular season is set to open this weekend (Oct 28-29), the ‘WolfPack have a lot of sub plots to that manta as they begin against the number one ranked team in USports: the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The two teams hit the Warner Rentals court twice. The first is Friday (Oct 28) at 7:45 pm with the other match Saturday (Oct 29) at 6:45 pm at the Tournament Capital Centre.
The first sign of the “something to prove” department is on the bench. Pat Hennelly has been the man ‘steering the ship’ since Thompson Rivers entered Canada West 11 years ago. But he is taking a one year sabbatical. Running the ship in the interim is someone very familiar with the WolfPack organization. Mike Hawkins returns to the program where he was team captain for two years followed by two years as an assistant.
The native of Lethbridge, Alberta honed his coaching chops at Lethbridge College last year and is excited. “It is an honor to coach in this league to begin with. Coming back to TRU makes it special. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. I get to test the waters in Canada West and learn what it takes to coach at this level.”
Hawkins says being a coach is something that came naturally. “On the vast majority of teams I was with I was a captain so being put in that leadership role felt natural. When I played under Pat, Colin Carson (Prince George, BC) and myself were co captains. We worked really well together and shared opinions. I was able to see the coaching side of volleyball earlier than a lot of guys. My first year as an assistant under Pat, he gave me more responsibility than others might have received since I think he recognized this was something I wanted to do seriously.”
As a setter, Hawkins was cool under pressure. He hopes to bring those traits to the head coaching position. “ It is no coincidence that most of the coaches in Canada West are former setters. I think it is one of those positions where you have to be cerebral and not be overly emotional. You need to be tactical with the decisions you have to make. I find that is the way I run my bench. Even in practice, I don’t like to yell at guys. If I can be rational, tactical and cerebral I will be effective.”
Hawkins, along with assistants Matt Krueger and Spencer Reed (the others alum of TRU) are most definitely the youngest coaching core in not only Canada West but likely USport.
They could be considered to have a bit of a ‘chip on their shoulder’ when it comes to earning respect. Hawkins says that also applies to the entire WolfPack organization who are starting for the first time in six years without Brad Gunter (Courtenay, BC). Gunter has graduated after becoming the all-time leading scorer and kills leader in USport.
“A lot of teams adopt the attitude of the coach or their best player whichever is most relatable. I think if they do adopt my personality then we would have a bit of a ‘chip on our shoulder’. I liked to play that way. TRU as a program right now, competing against recent powers like Trinity Western and Alberta, as well as other older programs in our league. We do sort of have that ‘chip’ and there are guys who adopt that on our team. There are guys who haven’t had a chance to shine yet: Tyler Pomietlarz (3rd year, setter, Kelowna, BC) is stepping into a major role as well as Randy Grundmann (4th year, outside hitter, Winnipeg, MB). Even a number of our middles-even though they had great seasons last year, a lot of our players haven’t established themselves as stars in this league yet.”
Hawkins says the “Gunter-less” WolfPack could catch a lot of teams off guard. “Brad over the years brought fear to other teams because of his heavy serve and dynamic attacker. With him gone, it will be much more difficult to game plan against our team because we will have much more balance. Both out of necessity and design. Our middles will be a focal point obviously but at we are also very talented on the outside. Opponents will have a tougher time of putting together a game plan to try and stop us.”
He says playing Alberta in the first week of the season is a great acid test. “It is. The nice thing is they were the last team we played in exhibition. We played them in Calgary (Oct 15 with the Golden Bears winning 3-0 –25-23,25-20, 25-18). They are a talented team for sure. They always are. We had spurts in that match that we played to our personality. I think this weekend will be determined by who can assert their style of play for the longer period of time. If we can weather the storm in that first match, playing at home in front of a quality crowd, if we can settle our nerves and play our style we might surprise them. That is one of the strengths of our conference that on any given weekend team one could lose to team 13. On paper they might seem like the overwhelming favorite, I think we will give them a battle.”
This weekend’s games will be seen on a pay-per-view basis on www.canadawest.tv
SIDE OUTS: The ‘Pack have only one fifth year player: Daniel Eikland Rod (outside hitter, Oz, Norway). “ We are a young team with lots of potential. My goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully the Nationals. I have never been there. I am not feeling a great deal of pressure being a leader because everyone has been picking it up on the court. “
Rod came to Canada as a middle but switched to outside hitter last season.
Pomietlarz is into his fourth year with the program but third year as a roster player. After apprenticing under former junior national player Colin Carson (Prince George, BC) and the last two years with Graham Stoliker (Surrey, BC), he says he is ready to run the offense. “I have learned so much. It has been crazy experience but I have enjoyed it all. I think preseason got out most of the nerves I had about starting. I do have pretty big shoes to fill and you have to have a lot of mental strength but I think I put in the work the last few years. I am excited to show I belong as the starter.”
When asked if a “Pomietlarz run offense will be different than those run by Stoliker or Carson: “For our group, I am the same age as the other starting six players. I should be able to relate to them a lot more. I am close friends with all the guys. I am not worried about the chemistry. You don’t have a lot of times between points. You don’t have a lot of time to communicate with a guys. For me: I have played with Jordan (Foot, middle, Prince George, BC) for six years, I have played with Randy (Grundmann) for four years, I have played with Dan (Rod) for three years. I am not worried about communication with those guys. I am really excited.”