Moving Forward And Life Without Iuliia

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Iuliia Pakhomenko

Kamloops, BC—Less than a week after being eliminated from the Canada West women’s volleyball playoffs, it’s onto the future for the head coach of the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.  But not before Chad Grimm has the chance to reflect on another step forward for his program.

 

Grimm’s third campaign at the helm saw the WolfPack finish sixth in the regular season which translated into a first round playoff series at UBC.  Despite being eliminated in two straight games, the WolfPack made a lot of strides in 2016-17.

“It is hard not to be a little disappointed that we didn’t go further,” Grimm reflected on the team’s post season. “It was a tough match up with UBC. I thought that in game two we played our best volleyball of the year. Unfortunately we didn’t get it done. A couple of points here and there and we would have sent it to a third game. At the end of the day, I think we are a better team now than we were last year.”

 

Grimm added. “Statistically, we were the better team on Saturday (a 3-2 UBC win to clinch series) . I thought the girls competed well. They didn’t give up after the second set. At that time we had lost four straight sets by two points. Credit to the girls, they didn’t give up and won the next two and forced a fifth set. I thought the girls played well.”

 

Looking back at the regular season, Grimm felt a lot of growth took place among his players. “We added seven different girls to the mix. That is always a challenge especially with five being first years. Trying to establish a competitive culture where everyone pushed each other. Being able to communicate and continue to win is always a challenge. They progressed well in that sense. I think having Abby (Spratt, setter, Calgary, AB) and Mikayla (Funk, outside, Surrey, BC) on the rookie team, and the play of Rachel (Windhorst, 3rd year, outside, Surrey, BC). She was outstanding at UBC. Kendra (Finch, 2nd year, North Vancouver, BC) developed a lot. She will have chance next year to move back to start at her natural spot on the left side. We have some good tools.”

 

The ‘Pack lose four key players from this year including defending Canada West player of the year and three time Canada West all-star Iuliia Pakhomenko (outside, Donetsk, Ukraine).  “Obviously losing her is a huge piece. Morgan (Kolasa, 4th year, Calgary, AB) also provided a spark to the team on the ocurt as well as some good leadership to the group while Julia (Niemczewska, 4th year, outside, Calgary, AB) and Alina (Sopizhuk, 5th year, outside, Donetsk, Ukraine) provided some veteran leadership off the bench. Those will be pieces that we lose but we have a good core coming back.”

 

That’s the most pressing question moving forward. How will the WolfPack deal without Pakhomenko? A player who has been with Grimm since he took over the women’s program.

 

“When you lose someone like Iuliia, the amount of attention she demands freed up a lot of space for other people and allowed them to be successful, “the coach explains. “ I think it will be a learning experience for everyone. I have been fortunate to have her since I took over. I haven’t had life without Iuliia, nor has the team. I am hoping that the girls learned a bit about the level of dedication and work it takes to become a top level player in this league.. What it takes to be in that situation and what it takes to be in the playoff series that was tight.  Everyone will have to pick up their game to replace the amount of points Iuliia scored for our team. It is going to be more ‘by committee’ if we are down or the pressure gets tight. In the past, we threw it to Iuliia to bail us out. It is going to have to be an off season where the girls are going to have to pick up that challenge pretty seriously and make it a lifestyle of a professional if they want to come back and not experience a fall. The men’s program experienced that this year when they lost Brad Gunter. The same thing happened when they lost Kevin Tillie. It was tougher than they imagined.  I am hoping the girls take that pretty seriously in the off season and come September be ready to go.”

 

Before September, Grimm will be out scouting club tournaments—provincially and nationally. As for a wish list for prospects? “We will definitely have to add a middle blocker or two. I think Avery (Pottle, 1st year, Uxbridge, ON) has the potential to play on the outside. If we get a couple, she could move positions there. We will also be adding another setter so we can move Hali (Drezet, 1st year, Prince George, BC) back to the libero position. She had to fill in at setter when we lost Savannah (Guttman, Dauphin, MB) at Christmas. Credit to her for coming in and being able to do that. We will definitely be adding a setter.  Those are the main pieces.  We don’t need to add bodies. We would like to add quality at those positions I think and then if you find someone special you obviously add them to the group.”

 

On paper, the WolfPack have only one potential fifth year player-middle Kaitlin Lomas of Ponoka, Alberta.

He is expecting big things from her in 2017-18.  “I think Lomas has shown some incredible growth in her four years here especially coming from an area which doesn’t have a big club volleyball background. She got stuck into a role she didn’t expect as a starter in her first year.  It didn’t allow her to develop without the pressure sometimes. I think she has really shown the ability to have some monster nights. She did against Saskatchewan during the final weekend of the regular season.  I thought on Saturday (game 2 vs UBC) likely one of her best matches. This was an important match against a different quality of opponent than against Sask.  She was outstanding. She can do that on a consistent basis next year.”

 

SIDE OUTS:  Grimm on what Pakhomenko has meant to the program: “She took a lot pressure off. Especially her first season where she helped us get some wins. They had been hard to come by the previous few years. She has helped a lot with recruiting. The exposure she has brought to the university? You would have to talk to the ‘higher ups’ about what exposure they have felt. But I know just seeing an athlete from Thompson Rivers University be represented on the national stage—not only USports but also national teams and the BLG candidacy she had last year. All of those things. Obviously with our international department, it has been a success story with her coming in not only as a player but her education that she is completing. She has also developed a name for herself in the community. It is nothing but positive for the university.”

 

On how he evolved as a coach this year: “I think getting to know the girls and the women’s game a little bit better. Learning how and when to push. It has been a good balance with our coaching staff. Different personalities (crediting assistant coach Nathan Bennett). We have been able to balance and bounce off one another pretty well. I think that development is something I want to get better. Like I expect the players to get better, I want to improve as well.  You can only do that by learning, talking to people and putting time in during the off season.  I also need to listen to the players. We have been working at developing our level of communication. I think they are more willing to do that than they have in the past. So, listening to the players as well as to when we need to push and what we need to do. To find out what they think is important. As a coach, you don’t always have to take everything. You have to listen and find out what works for the group that you have. Every group is different. If you use one style all the time, you are not going to be successful. I am trying to take those cues and tailor it to the group I have—the personalities you have. And at the same time, recruit personalities that can fit into your philosophy and what you value as a coach. Those are all important pieces that I continue learn and build on.”

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