Bobcats women’s volleyball head coach Lee Carter puts his team through the paces Thursday at the Healthy Living Centre.
(COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
This could be a pretty special year for volleyball fans here in the Wheat City.
Two top five teams in the country take to the court tonight at Brandon University’s Healthy Living Centre as the Bobcats open the Canada West conference regular season with high hopes and high rankings to start the year.
The BU men’s volleyball team starts the season ranked fourth in the country after posting a sizzling 8-1 pre-season record and coming off of its first Canada West conference title and a bronze medal at nationals.
A team led by the likes of impact import Sam Tuivai of New Zealand has added another world-class weapon in Swiss sensation Sebastien Steigmeier, giving the Bobcats a pair of outside hitters who could both be all-Canadian calibre this season. Add in 6-foot-9 Brendan White, 6-foot-8 Frank Jones and 6-foot-7 senior Dan Boutwell, and the Bobcats possess a plethora of weapons that should create all sorts of havoc for opposing teams.
The Bobcats have had big-time talent before, like CIS player of the year Paul Sanderson, but have never had this kind of depth and multiple attack options to run with.
"I would have to say this is the most balanced we have been, for sure," Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson said. "If we take care of the ball, we’ll definitely be tough to stop. We have lots of good offensive options in all positions and good experience in all positions and it will be a matter of taking care of the ball so that we have those options available."
As always, getting back to the CIS championship is the goal for the Bobcats, although that will be easier said than done this season. The unranked Calgary Dinos will host nationals, with only two other spots open for Canada West teams. With four CWUAA clubs currently in the top five in the CIS rankings — No.1 Alberta, No.3 Trinity Western, No.4 Brandon and No.5 UBC — it could mean two of the top five teams in the entire country won’t get the chance to compete in nationals this season.
Despite the fierce competition, Wilson remains confident his club will be there again in the end.
"We’re pretty solid and experienced and we’re big and athletic," Wilson said. "Time will tell, but I certainly like where we’re starting.
"Hopefully we continue to improve throughout the course of the year and if we continue to improve and we are playing our best volleyball come the end of the year, hopefully we’ll have a shot."
Meanwhile, coach Lee Carter’s Bobcats women’s volleyball team also opens the season as a top-10 team, ranked fifth in the country — and interestingly enough, ranked fifth in Canada West in the pre-season coaches poll as well.
After posting an 8-14 record in 2012-13 and missing the playoffs for the second straight season, Carter likes what he has seen so far from his squad, which notched a solid 8-2 pre-season record.
"I like our dynamic that we have this year," Carter said. "I think it’s a great mix. We’ve got some young kids with tons of energy and passion for the game and we have some more experienced athletes that just get it and know when to do what, so it’s a fun mix."
Most of the key pieces of the puzzle return this season, led by homegrown fifth-year senior setter Kellie Baker, with the Bobcats also bringing back one of the best players in the country in former CIS libero of the year Donata Huebert.
With tonight’s opponent, the University of Regina Cougars, hosting the CIS championship this season and three more spots reserved for Canada West teams, Carter is confident his squad will not only make the playoffs, but battle for a trip to nationals.
"Our goal every year is to get to nationals and we believe that this year … should be our year to get there," Carter said.
For both Bobcat teams, the long road to nationals officially begins tonight.
Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery will try to clinch spots on Canada’s World Cup skeleton team on Sunday in Whistler, B.C.
After a super start in the first of two national team selection races in Calgary last weekend, Hawrysh holds a slim 0.06 second lead on Olympic bronze-medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth going into this weekend’s finale. World championship medallist Sarah Reid has already locked up her spot for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Montgomery —the 2010 Olympic gold medallist — sits in third place, 0.17 seconds back of John Fairbairn in second place and 0.23 back of leader Eric Neilson.
The top three men and top two women (with Reid having already clinched a third spot) will make the World Cup team and be in prime position to represent Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February.
You can catch Virden-based pairs skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers on television at the prestigious Skate Canada International today and tomorrow in Saint John, N.B.
One of three Canadian pairs teams taking part, the Grand Prix event will serve as a trial run for January’s national championships when Lawrence and Swiegers will try to earn a spot on Canada’s Olympic team for the Sochi Games. TSN will televise today’s short program at 1 p.m., with CTV carrying Saturday’s action at 3 p.m.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2013