By Ryan Laverty
The Jack will be abuzz with activity this weekend as the University of Calgary hosts the 11th Annual Husky Dino Cup Volleyball Tournament. Always a showcase of unreal talent and competitiveness, this year’s edition may be one of the hottest fields in the tourney’s history. Here is a quick rundown of each team, and what to expect from each in this always tough competition.
The Dinos have not broken stride since the departure of three of their marquee players from last season. They still have a wealth of talent and confidence. Most notable is “Kazakhstanian Sensation” Denis Zhukov, who brings not only his unrelenting power but also his humble leadership to what is a relatively young Dinos side. Also joining Zhukov in the captain’s chair are U of C veterans Cory Paddock and Steve Brand.
In addition to Zhukov and co., some new faces have been added to the mix. The menacing six-foot-nine Paul Armbruster and the domineering force that is Lee Chreniwchan should cover any gaps left from last year.
“We added some good, strong college players along with some real solid rookies,” explained Head Coach Greg Ryan. “I am confident that every one of these guys will make an impact.”
The Dinos come into the tournament ranked eighth in the CIS national volleyball rankings, a far cry from their top five ranking last season. But as Ryan explained, rankings don’t necessarily reflect a team’s true potential.
“The system for determining the rankings was proposed by the Ontario conference, wherein you can’t vote for anyone in your own conference,” he said. “But guess how many teams from outside Canada West have won nationals in the last thirty years.
“The rankings are good for TV and radio, outside of that they really don’t mean a thing.”
As for this year’s tournament expectations, Ryan said the final is a good goal for the untested Dinos.
“I would like to see us make the final, because from there it’s a crapshoot,” he said.
The Spartans will compete in their first Husky Dino Cup. And they’ll arrive with heavy artillery, ready to do battle with three of North America’s best.
An extensive exhibition schedule and an early start to the Canada West season lends TWU the advantage of a team chock full both of talent and experience. The players most likely to stand out–and they’ll need to in order to keep pace with this kind of competition–are first-year middle/right hitter Chris Meehan and fourth-year outside hitter Corry Baum. Both Meehan and Baum have been instrumental in establishing what is now an eight-game unbeaten streak for the crew from Langley, B.C.
Head Coach Ron Pike is no stranger to the Dino Cup. He held a position on the Calgary bench as an assistant back in 1996 and is confident his team will do more than compete in what is a perennially challenging tournament.
Like their Calgary counterparts, the Spartans are undoubtedly underrated in the current CIS rankings, which have them listed at seventh. Only consistent play and total dominance will ensure the Spartans gain the respect they desire. This weekend, Trinity Western looks to win their first Husky Dino Cup tournament title, in what will be their first kick at the can.
The Bruins men’s volleyball team is a major reason why UCLA is one of the world’s most revered collegiate athletic programs. UCLA is a school synonymous with championship. In fact, the Bruins lead all U.S. colleges with total championships won–an astounding 82 since 1950. The school and its athletic program send more athletes to the pro ranks than any other school in North America. It’s this kind of dominance that causes other U.S. programs to shudder in their knee pads. But this is Canada, and as past years have proven, bleach-blond Malibu surfers don’t deserve any more respect than any team in Canada West.
As a well-travelled team this season, the Bruins are fresh off a tournament last weekend at the University of Alberta where they competed against teams from across the nation. Before the U of A tourney, the Bruins embarked on a 17-day European road tour where they won six of 11 matches against premier teams from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Switzerland. This will be the eighth time UCLA has competed in the Husky Dino Cup, and they’ve never finished lower than second. Led by Al Scates, the greatest coach in National Collegiate Athletics Association history (for any sport) with a total of 19 national championships to his name, and junior outside hitter Cameron Mount, the Bruins are a tough competitor and are challenging for their third tournament title.
The Stanford Cardinals boasted one of the best offences in the NCAA last season, and Dino Cup opponents should expect the same kind of efficiency this weekend.
Despite the departure of Surrey, B.C. native Brent Youngberg, who led the team in kill percentage and blocks last season, the Cardinals look poised to make a run at both a national title, and their first Dino Cup title. That’s because all-star junior outside hitter Curt Toppel, who led the team with 364 kills and 22 service aces last season, has returned and will be more dominant than ever. Toppel’s college performance in 2000 earned him a spot on this past summer’s gold medal U.S. Team at the World University Games in Beijing, China.
Brand new coach Don Shaw, who crossed over from the Stanford women’s program, will count on Toppel and other key players such as junior Seth Ring and Billy Strickland who helped the Cardinals reach as high as first in the national rankings last season.
The Cardinals are as deep as they are tall (towering over their Canadian counterparts at an average height of roughly 6’7″), and should be a good test for all teams in the tourney. Look for Stanford to have a huge game Sat., Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. when they take on UCLA. The Bruins knocked the Cardinals out of last year’s conference semi-final, cutting short the team’s best season since 1998.