A split last weekend with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies helped the Dinos men’s volleyball team move into the top spot in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union rankings, but coach Greg Ryan wasn’t completely satisfied with his team’s performance.
The Dinos lost 3-2 on Friday after being up 2-0, then turned things around and won Saturday’s match in four games, losing the final game for a final count of 3-2.
"We played really crappy on Friday," said Ryan. "We were much better on Saturday. We weren’t prepared to play. That’s the number-one thing that’s important, and we weren’t."
Ryan knows that his team has a great deal of ability, but doesn’t always put everything together.
"If we prepare to play and do the things we’re responsible for, we’ll be successful, because we’re extremely talented. There’s been a resistance or lack of knowledge of how to be ready to play.
"Sometimes we think we’re good enough to just walk on the floor and win, and we can’t do that."
The Huksies, who also moved up in the CIAU rankings, from fourth to third, could be one of the Dinos’ obstacles on their way to the national championship.
"They’re a good team," said Ryan. "They’re well-coached, they work hard and they play very well as a team, but we’re stronger."
Bill Byma and Denis Zhukov tied for the team lead in kills on Friday, with 16, while libero Graham Gent had 14 digs. On Saturday, Zhukov had an astounding 21 kills, and birthday boy Byma added 18. Gent had 13 digs. John Walsh started in place of Wes Montgomery and had an energetic game in front of the net.
"Denis has been the guy who has glued it all together," Ryan stated. "Since Christmas, he has really turned it on."
When he first arrived from Kazakhstan, Zhukov was looked upon as something of a curiosity. Now, volleyball fans know why he earned a starting spot with one of the best programs in Canada. Even though Zhukov is now recognized as one of the best volleyball players around, it’s apparent that he won’t be happy without a championship.
"If we lose, it doesn’t matter how I play," Zhukov said. "We could play better."
The Dinos have four matches left, including this weekend’s visit to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Although the Dinos sit atop the national rankings, Ryan isn’t ready to sit back and wait for the playoffs.
"It’s a real race to see who’s going to be successful," he said. "The teams are all close together. If you don’t come to play, you miss the playoffs. We have to come to play. Nothing’s assured."
"We just need to win," said Zhukov. "We have to play our own game and forget about the pressure."