Hopes were high for the Dinos men’s volleyball team when they flew to Quebec City last weekend for the national championships. As one of the most talented teams in the nation, the wild-card Dinos were expected to challenge for the title. Their dreams crumbled into dust in the first match they played at the tournament, and the Dinos had to settle for fifth place.
The Dinos opened the tournament with a 3-2 loss to the University of Manitoba Bisons, and single-match elimination meant they wouldn’t be able to finish any higher than fifth.
"It was another example of not playing to one’s potential," summed up coach Greg Ryan.
The Dinos lost the first game against Manitoba decisively, then lost a second close game before winning the next two to tie the match.
"In the fifth game, we didn’t come out of the blocks," said Ryan.
The Bisons were using a player whose eligibility was questionable. The Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union allowed him to rejoin the team only four days after he left the Canadian national team, which contravenes CIAU rules. Ryan noted the difference the one player made helped put his team over the top.
"It leaves a little bit of a bitter taste," he said. "But we still should have won."
The Dinos went on to defeat the top-ranked Université Laval Rouge et Or 3-1 and the University of Western Ontario 3-2, but Ryan took little solace in the wins.
"Sure there’s some consolation," he said. "That’s why they call it the consolation pool. But if you don’t win in the first round, you go away saying, ‘this sucks.’"
Ryan was hesitant to name any standout players, but he named some players who moved up from their usual roles.
"Our most consistent player was Wes Montgomery. John Walsh stepped up for us. Mark Ellingson came in and did a good job and helped us out a lot."
Some volleyball observers suggested that if the Dinos had beaten the Bisons, they would have taken the same path and won the national title.
"That’s a fair suggestion," Ryan said. "We were the only team that went to five games against [the Bisons]. We would have been in the final, but that’s hit or miss. I liked our draw going in, because in the second round we played Dalhousie or Laval, and that didn’t bother me at all."
While Ryan may have put together the most talented group of players in the country, they have yet to learn how to play as a unit. Ryan’s goal for the upcoming off-season is to teach them how to play together. Since only one player–fifth-year Warren Henschel–is guaranteed not to be on the team next year, Ryan knows most of the cast with who he’ll have to work.
"The vast majority of the group wants to play as a group, but I’ll have to teach some others how to play as a team."
Next year’s team will be strong on experience, with Bill Byma and Jeremy Wilcox in their fifth years of eligibility. Ryan’s talent for recruiting has also made the Dinos one of the deepest teams in the country.
"We’re way deeper than any other team," Ryan emphasized. "The only problem is finding the right group of people who understand how to play as a team. The next couple of years are going to be fun."