Kamloops, BC—The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s volleyball team will have two new assistant coaches this coming season.
Former players Mike Hawkins (Lethbridge, AB) and Matt Krueger (Abbotsford, BC) have announced they are leaving the program as assistant coaches. Hawkins is moving to the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat while Krueger will join the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Hawkins will be a full time assistant coach with the Heat while Krueger will assist the Thunderbirds as he pursues a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology.
Hawkins was the WolfPack’s interim head coach last season while head coach Pat Hennelly was on sabbatical. He rejoined the TRU organization after spending two years as an assistant and then head coach with the Lethbridge College Kodiaks of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association.
He says the experience to head coach at the USport/Canada West level was invaluable in his coaching development. “I think the opportunity to coach in the ultra-competitive Canada West was incredible for me at this point in my career. I am very ambitious with my pursuit of this profession but sometimes I forget to take a step back and realize how new I still am to coaching. Being able to lead this team (TRU) for a year allowed me to have an opportunity very few people in this country ever get to. I am extremely fortunate and grateful for being given this chance.”
When asked about what were the biggest lessons he learned as interim head coach, Hawkins responded: “Two major lessons stood out to me the most. One would be focusing on being the best coach for your group and not being concerned with what other teams or coaches are doing. I always preach to coach/play to your personality, but it’s easy to get caught up with your perceptions of what other teams may be doing differently or better. At the end of the day, you need to use your particular set of skills, whether it’s in coaching or as an athlete, and deliver those skills to the best of your abilities. Each program is different and requires different pressures. It’s easy to hear the noise and the criticisms, but only those who are in the gym day in and day out will really know what’s best for the team.”
Krueger got more responsibility running the WolfPack with Hawkins as interim head coach. He was thankful for that and all that he learned under Pat Hennelly. “The biggest things I learned from being an assistant is the dedication and time commitment it takes to be a coach at this level. Your mind is constantly occupied with volleyball and the team; it feels like you are never really away from it. I like that. I enjoy the continual commitment to the game of volleyball.”
As far as joining the UBC program, Krueger states: “I am extremely excited to go back home to the coast and continue my coaching career. I believe as a young coach it is important not to stay static and continually experience new programs and coaching styles. That way you can gain a broader understanding of different ways to run a volleyball program and create your individual personality.”
While Hennelly is sad to see both men go—but as he experienced with former assistants Chad Grimm (now TRU women’s head coach) and Drew Venables (assistant coach with VIU in Nanaimo, BC) , he is happy that his two former players and colleagues are expanding their coaching resumes. “It is good to get new experiences. I think particularly for Matt it was time for him challenge himself and start his Masters. It will be a great fit for him at UBC. Good and bad for us (laughing) that Mike is going to Kelowna. He will help UBCO quite a bit. “
Both Krueger and Hawkins showed interest in coaching as they playing careers wound down. Both have volunteered their time in the Volleyball BC (Krueger) and Volleyball Alberta (Hawkins) programs. Hawkins is currently working as an assistant coach with the Volleyball Canada Youth men’s program. That was the same direction Hennelly took as he was cutting his ‘coaching teeth’. “All those things make you a better coach and they are taking the right direction in pursuing it,” he adds.
Hennelly couldn’t be prouder of how the two have progressed as he looks to give back from the lessons he learned as a young coach. “ I try to give guys the same responsibility as Dale Oman gave me. Just getting out there and working with smaller groups. Then working on bigger things. Doug Reimer at UBC was another guy who let me do a lot of things. Mike and Matt both took on whatever role they were given with relish and intensity. Those are easy guys to work with. We are now going to look for some other eager young guys who want to learn. “
As both open a new chapter in their volleyball lives, they reflect on their time with Thompson Rivers University. Hawkins states: “I can’t thank Pat Hennelly, Ken Olynyk (TRU Athletic Director) and all the people that make up WolfPack athletics enough for what they have done for me. Coming to Thompson Rivers as an athlete changed my life and has opened so many doors for me both professionally and personally. I will forever hold Kamloops and TRU close to my heart and will look back fondly on all the memories and relationships I have made.”
Adds Krueger: “I will miss a lot about the TRU program. TRU has given me so much. I came here when I was 18 years old in 2009, and spent eight years as part of the WolfPack. TRU and Pat supported me when I had to take a year off due to illness. I made incredible lifelong relationships and memories that I will never forget. Like going to Nationals my first year with Olympians Gord Perrin and Kevin Tillie, winning a CanWest bronze medal, and fun team-bonding trips to Stanford and Hawaii. Being able to coach club volleyball with KVA (Kamloops Volleyball Association) has also been an awesome experience. The community of Kamloops has been extremely welcoming, and I am extremely thankful for everything Kamloops has given me.”
Both men start their new positions in September officially. Hennelly will have Jake Schmidt, Spencer Reed and Ken Lavin returning as assistants in the fall.
SIDE OUTS: When asked how it will be when they coach against TRU this coming year, Hawkins said: “It will be weird definitely. I have a tone of pride in being a part of the WolfPack as a player and a coach and that will never change. At the end of the day though, I am a competitor and will do my job to help my team have success.”
As for Krueger: “Playing the WolfPack next year will be fun!. I have so many friends that will still be playing on the team, and to see familiar faces will me awesome. I already can’t wait to see the coaches and players when they come down to Vancouver.”
Hennelly says; “You end up crossing paths with a lot of your old players and friends. It is kind of special to be part of the same program. I expect there will be some friendly jabs going back and forth and likely a few emails and texts before the matches. I think it is going to be good. I am interested to hear what new things they are learning. Over the summer, I always want to pick my colleagues brains. Obviously we won’t tell each other the close details of our operations, but its good to find out what is new and what is working. I always like to get feedback on what we could have done better in the past. It is always good to get guys who are still involved to give you feedback. The same thing applies to guys playing pro. Gord Perrin (former TRU player, captain of Canada’s Senior “A” mens national team, pro in Poland): I am always asking him about what his team is doing; what is changing in the area of blocking and offense. He is on the front line of volleyball.”