By Chris Johns
It is pretty clear what the Dinos men’s volleyball team thought going into their weekend series with Trinity Western University. "We are playing the equivalent of an expansion team. Piece of cake, right?"
The Dinos found out otherwise when the TWU Spartans took them to a fifth game on Friday night before the Dinos regained their composure and won the match 3-2. The Dinos won 9-1 on Saturday in convincing fashion to vault into second place in the Canada West Conference, ahead of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
The TWU Spartans are like the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. In their first year, everyone took the Panthers lightly and they went 11-5. The Spartans are good enough that if you overlook them, they will make you pay.
The Spartans clearly had the Dinos’ number on Friday night, digging well and hitting with authority. Calgary coach Greg Ryan switched up his line-up, using Mark Ellingson as libero to solidify the passing, and the Dinos began to roll. After losing the first two games, the Dinos won three straight and staved off the upset.
"If you don’t come prepared, the league is so close and rally-point is so much tougher, anything can happen," said Ryan.
It was the fifth time this season that Trinity Western has made it to a fifth game only to lose. Making the jump from college volleyball to the street fight mentality of Canada West volleyball is a quantum leap. Coach Scott Bakula… er, Ron Pike knows that success is not too far away.
"Physically, we can play with these guys. We are as big as them. We are just young. On average, we have shown up for one solid night out of two and we have been on the unlucky end a few times. Against Calgary last night, we won two close games 26-24 but still lost the match. Every time we play, we are learning a new lesson. The bottom line is we’re playing in the toughest league in Canada. It is a battle every weekend."
Power hitter Warren Henschel, the Dinos’ only Þfth-year player, led the team with 15 kills on Saturday night, despite fighting strep throat. He realized the importance of having a better start on Saturday night.
"We just came out really flat, expecting that we could walk all over them," said Henschel. "As you can see from the year so far, everyone is winning games from each other, so nothing is really certain yet. Last year we played really strong volleyball in the first half and then didn’t play so well heading into nationals. Hopefully we will learn from that and play average now and continue to get better from now on."
Ryan concurred with that assessment.
"That is probably decent thinking," said Ryan. "We haven’t played our best match at all. We haven’t even been close to playing our best match. But we came close in periods tonight."
Even in their fourth year together, Ryan continues to be amazed with the play of setter Jeremy Wilcox. He does things that not many appreciate, but that make his team stronger.
"Jeremy was running some serious stuff tonight," said Ryan. "The sign of a really brilliant setter is someone who can create things you haven’t worked on in the middle of a match and react to what the other team is doing. His middle hitters are faster and his outside hitters are better."
Sounds like a recipe for success.
The Dinos have a break for the holidays and don’t play at home until Jan. 21, when they tackle the top-ranked University of Winnipeg Wesmen.