Brandon’s Scott Neufeld passes the ball during Bobcats practice on Thursday at Laval University in Montreal. (CHRIS JASTER/BRANDON SUN)
QUEBEC CITY — The Brandon University Bobcats are feeling right at home at Laval University’s Sports and Physical Education Pavilion.
After practising in a secondary gym on Wednesday, the Canada West men’s volleyball champions got their first taste Thursday of the facility where they will play for a Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship.
"It’s not hard to get used to," said fourth-year Bobcat middle Brendan White. "It’s strange when you get into some places, you have a different ceiling height or different seating arrangements and all that kind of stuff that plays with your depth perception ...
"It’s very strange with how comfortable it feels at the moment. It’s very nice. They put the floor down on this field house and have all the seating around it. Having played on a big stage before, it feels natural and it feels homey. I can’t wait to see what it’s like buzzing."
While the gym won’t be buzzing until the matches start today, there is a buzz around the Bobcats.
Every team watched Brandon, which opens the tournament against the Quebec league runner-up Montreal Carabins at 5 p.m. CT (WCG-TV and cis-sic.tv), when the Bobcats walked into the awards banquet on Wednesday.
The Bobcats also expect to have fifth-year left side Scott Neufeld back in the lineup today and they’re experiencing a familiar feeling during the buildup to nationals.
Neufeld, who rolled his ankle in the Canada West final last weekend in Edmonton, had better mobility at yesterday’s practice, although he’s still not 100 per cent.
"I’m feeling pretty good," he said. "It’s not painful or anything, just a little stiff. It’ll be fine come tomorrow. I’ll be ready to go."
The familiar feeling for the Bobcats relates to their run to a national silver medal two years ago. That season, BU posted a 10-8 record before getting hot and finishing second in Canada West and at nationals.
This year’s team believes it had an average regular season, finishing sixth in Canada West with a 13-9 record, before getting hot in the playoffs and winning the conference title. The Bobcats, who are the top seed at nationals, have five returning players from that squad, three of whom started 2011’s national gold-medal match.
That trio of White, Neufeld and Dan Boutwell are being counted on to help everyone adjust to playing on the big stage, but BU head coach Grant Wilson isn’t putting any more pressure on them than he did earlier in the season.
"I think it’s pretty important, but it’s been important all year," he said. "Those guys have led by example on and off the court and when push comes to shove this weekend, we’re going to rely upon those guys because they’ve been there before and I think it will keep our team on an even keel for sure."
While White knows how important of a role the experienced players will play, he thinks the rest of the team will step up as well.
"You have Sam (Tuivai) and Craig (Lowe) and guys who have played on the big stage before," he said. "They’re definitely no strangers to this and they’re going to feel quite comfortable once they get out there."
Montreal didn’t have a great regular season. The Carabins posted a 6-11 record in the three-team conference, but beat Sherbrooke in the best-of-three semifinal to secure Quebec’s berth at nationals.
The Carabins fell to the national host team, the Laval Rouge et Or, in the final.
The Bobcats can’t wait to get on the court today, play Montreal and have a chance to win the school’s first national volleyball banner.
"We’ve already been here for two days and not playing," Neufeld said. "Usually we get here the day before and play right away. It’s kind of like ‘Can we play already?’ I think come tomorrow we’ll be ready."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2013