Four teams, three days, one winner.
Another Husky Dino Cup has come and gone, and with it a multitude of “what ifs,” inevitable words of frustration and the gut-wrenching sensation you get when things don’t go your way.
The 17th annual Dino Cup was promising, but ended in utter failure for the Dinos men’s volleyball team, who dropped four in a row against three of North America’s best university level teams.
The story begins with the Dinos’ opening match against the University of California at Los Angeles Bruins, one of the most storied teams in the United States. The Dinos looked good during warm ups and started the game strong. However, serving mistakes and missed chances proved to be their downfall as they dropped a 20-17 first game lead, losing 25-23.
Calgary looked to rally back in the second with strong serving by setter Glen Handley, but the Dinos could not convert, losing a heartbreaker, 28-26. The third game was mechanical for the Bruins, taking Calgary out with strong hitting by Jonathan Acosta, later named tournament MVP.
“I don’t think we executed well as a unit, I don’t think we attacked well, although we attacked aggressively. We were not smart out there and they blocked well,” Handley said. “We have to play better when it comes down to it, there is nothing we did really well. Every aspect of our game can be improved.”
Head Coach Greg Ryan agreed that the loss was due in large part to his team’s errors.
“We needed to relax and play instead of being so tense,” said Ryan. “You know when you’re playing so hard you’re hardly playing?”
This tournament was a learning experience for the Dinos, who played better in their next match against the Trinity Western University Spartans, winning both the first and third sets. The fourth was a different story however, as TWU fought back from deficits of 20-17 and 22-20 to win. Shifting momentum in the fifth saw the Dinos drop an 8-5 lead, to crumble under the Spartans, losing 15-10.
The heartache continued when the Dinos faced the University of the Pacific Tigers as their final opponent in the round robin portion of the tourney. Calgary battled hard for two and a half hours to stay in gold medal contention. Down two sets to one, the Dinos showed a spark of life, winning the fourth set, sending the match to a fifth. However, they once again failed to close out the match.
Eric von Englebrechten put up strong numbers to keep the team alive, with 19 kills and eight digs, but the Dinos did not capitalize on their opportunities and were prone to service errors. The match ended in a 20-18 loss, eliminating the Dinos from gold medal contention.
Playing for pride and a bronze medal, the Dinos faced the Tigers yet again, looking worn out from the tough loss the night before. The crowd was disappointing to say the least. The Dinos’ support at this time of need amounted to half-full stands and lackadaisical fans.
The team, although mentally and physically tired, fought hard to push the Tigers. Unfortunately, the first set ended with another disappointing loss for the hosts, 27-25. This was followed by two more difficult sets, dashing their hopes for bronze in a 3-0 (27-25, 25-20, 25-21) win for the Tigers.
“We need to learn how to finish out a set, how to execute down the stretch,” Handley explained. “There were times where we played very steady, very solid, and then it seemed at 18-18 we played not as steady.”
“We learned our weaknesses, our mentality as a team needs to change,” said teammate Robert Ellis. “It’s not so much taking what we learned to the next game, it’s taking it to practice and working on the things we needed working on from the weekend. We’re not going to get better through the games, we are going to get better through practice.”
Ryan put the Dinos’ poor performance into perspective.
“There are three things you need to do to play together. Number one, you need to put the energy into it, number two you need to execute, number three you got to do your job,” he said. “In the last two sets [of the bronze match] we did none of those things.
“Rob Ellis is going to be great and Glen Handley did a good job,” he added. “The rest have got to learn how to focus and be everyday players.”
The silver lining to this year’s Dino Cup, according to Ryan, was that the team did better than expected.
“We have five new starters on the floor, that’s a tremendous load,” he added.
Thus, the 17th annual Dino Cup was a disappointing one. Criticisms leveled at a team consisting of five new starters aside, they made a decent showing considering the short time these guys have played together.
The goal for this year’s squad should be to play as a team. With some hard work, they could become a national contender.
Four teams, three days, one winner.