Each October the University of Calgary hosts an event of epic magnitude. Renowned both locally and nationally, it attracts crowds like no other campus event. The images seen there will stand out in your mind for years to come.
No, I’m not talking about the Imaginus poster sale. I’m talking about the Husky Dino Cup.
Since 1987, four volleyball men’s teams from various Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union and National Collegiate Athletic Association schools have converged at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium in late October for some of the best competition the level permits.
This year’s Dino Cup includes the host Dinos (of course), the University of Manitoba Bisons, the California State University Long Beach 49ers and the University of the Pacific Tigers.
The Dinos are hoping to repeat their first-place finish from 1998. They haven’t won back-to-back Dino Cups since 1988 and 1989.
Aside from witnessing top-quality volleyball and the most important annual sporting event at the U of C, those who attend the Dino Cup will see a preview of a new style of CIAU volleyball, thanks to some off-season rule changes.
"People get to come watch rally-point volleyball," said U of C head coach Greg Ryan, referring to one of those changes, which means that play will flow much better, and three-hour marathon matches will be virtually nonexistent. A new position, the libero, has also been introduced to the sport. I misunderstood Ryan’s pronunciation of the word, bringing politics into the discussion.
"It’s not like a Liberal in Ottawa," he explained. "The libero can’t spike, and can’t set past the 10-foot line. They dig a lot of balls, which means that you not only have your best blocker on the floor, but also your best digger and passer."
There will still only be six players on the floor at a time, but the libero, who wears a different colour of uniform to prevent confusion, can substitute for anyone at any stoppage in play, essentially becoming a seventh starter.
Ryan isn’t sure whether or not the NCAA has introduced the libero or constant rally-point volleyball, but he’s not concerned. His statement regarding those changes can also be used to descibe the Dinos’ feelings toward any team that thinks it can take the Dino Cup home.
"We play by our own rules up here."
University of Calgary Dinos
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Coach: Greg Ryan
Last season: Fourth in the CIAU
Previous Dino Cup appearances: 1987 (second), 1988 (first), 1989 (first), 1990 (second), 1991 (first), 1992 (second), 1993 (second), 1994 (third), 1995 (second), 1996 (first), 1997 (second), 1998 (first)
Best Dino Cup finish: Champions in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998
Players to watch: "All of them," according to Ryan. Specifically, keep an eye on Denis Zhukov, a Þrst-year Dino from Kazakhstan; Jeremy Wilcox and Bill Byma (last year’s MVP), recently returned from the national junior team; and Wes Montgomery, back with the Dinos after a year at Mount Royal College.
Outlook: "The key issue is that we’re more experienced this year than we have been in a long time," says Ryan. "We’re more composed and we have a greater amount of skill."
University of the Pacific Tigers
Location: Stockton, California
Coach: Joe Wortmann (founder of the UoP men’s volleyball program)
Last season: Ranked 11th in NCAA
Previous Dino Cup appearances: None
Best Dino Cup finish: n/a
Players to watch: 6’8" Croatian outside hitter Vladimir Andrik, 6’5" middle blocker Darrell Dilmore
Outlook: According to Wortmann, the Tigers’ strength is their play at the net.
"We were an excellent blocking team last year."
Their weaknesses are passing and setting. Their starting setter graduated after last season, and two young players are vying for his spot in the lineup.
California State University Long Beach 49ers
Location: Long Beach, California
Coach: Ray Ratelle
Last season: Lost to Brigham Young University in the NCAA final
Previous Dino Cup appearances: 1998 (fourth)
Best Dino Cup finish: Fourth in 1998
Players to watch: Setter Chris Seiffert, middle blocker Matt Prosser, and outside hitter Dave McKienzie, who set an NCAA record last year with 58 kills in a single match.
Outlook: The 49ers returned every starter from last year’s team. With only one injured player not making the trip, they’re looking to improve upon 1998’s last place finish Despite that finish, Ratelle, who recently announced that he will retire following this season, is looking forward to returning to Calgary.
"It’s a really well-run tournament. We enjoy being invited. We’re probably more geared up this year. Hopefully we can do a bit better."
University of Manitoba Bisons
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Coach: Jim Schreyer
Last season: 7-1 season record, but lost Great Plains Athletic Conference final to the University of Winnipeg
Previous Dino Cup appearances: 1987 (third)
Best Dino Cup finish: Third in 1987
Players to watch: Rightside Bryan Enns and Rob Janson, both all-stars at the recent U of W tournament
Outlook: "We’re off to a good start," says Schreyer.
The Bisons are a young team, but one of the CIAU’s tallest, as well, with five players over 6’8". The Winnipeg area has always produced top volleyball players, and the Bisons have historically capitalized on that fact.
"We’re definitely a team to watch this year," Schreyer concludes.