COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Veteran Sam Tuivai works on his passing skills during BU Bobcats men’s volleyball practice on Wednesday.
The Brandon University Bobcats wanted a better finish at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s volleyball championship in March and they hope to make amends this season.
Once again, the Bobcats feature a solid lineup and great depth and look poised to challenge for their second straight Canada West championship. They suffered only one loss in their nine pre-season contest — coming when BU head coach Grant Wilson used the match to rotate multiple players in and out of the lineup — and are ranked fourth in the country heading into Friday’s season opener against the Regina Cougars at BU’s Healthy Living Centre at 7:45 p.m.
While some people think the Bobcats will have a big target on their back this season, that’s not how Wilson looks at it.
"It’s a new year and new teams and everyone’s in that same boat, just looking to have a good start," he said. "It’s one of those things where in our conference everyone has a bit of a target because everybody in Canada West is pretty strong. There’s four teams ranked in the top five already. We’re in that boat and I think that’s a good boat to be in."
Brandon returns five starters from last season’s national bronze-medal-winning team and will again be led by third-year left side Sam Tuivai. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound New Zealand import led the conference with 4.35 kills per set last season and was named a second-team all-Canadian. As dominating as he was, Tuivai admitted he was weaker with his serving and passing and has been working hard to improve them.
While Tuivai will be a go-to player again this season, a lot of pressure has been relieved by the addition of Swiss sensation Sebastien Steigmeier at right side. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Steigmeier spent his summer representing his native Switzerland in the World University Games and was one of the tournament’s kill leaders.
"Definitely a big relief (to have Steigmeier at right side)," said Tuivai, who was battling injuries at the end of last season because of the heavy workload. "Sebastien has been showing a lot of potential on the right side. Last year was Roy (Ching), this year it’s Sebastien filling a big role and also we have Frank (Jones) and Whitey (Brendan White) stepping in. It’s going to be a good year."
Fifth-year Dan Boutwell is back at middle, while White moves from the middle to left side to make room for Jones — who redshirted with the Bobcats last season — to join the starting rotation. Jeremy Davies, who moved into the starting lineup for Brandon’s playoff run last year, is back at libero after spending the summer with the Canadian junior men’s volleyball team.
The biggest change for the Bobcats comes at setter. Brandonite Garrett Popplestone exhausted his eligibility and will be replaced by third-year David Stasica and Ching, who spent most of last season at right side.
Stasica won the starting job out of camp, but he may not start on Friday after spraining his ankle during the Bobcats’ last exhibition match, against the reigning national champion Laval Rouge et Or, and hasn’t been cleared to play.
Wilson likes what he has seen from both setters.
"Up until now, we’ve given (Stasica) the opportunity to set and Roy the opportunity to set and they’ve both shown some good things and also at times struggled, but overall we’re pleased with where they’re at," Wilson said.
Wilson is also happy with the depth of the role players he has on the bench, including Brandonites Daryl McCharles and Conan Mickey.
Although the Bobcats have high hopes, it won’t be any easy path to win another conference banner and return to nationals, which will be held in Calgary. In addition to the host Dinos, only two Canada West teams will make it, despite the fact that Alberta, Brandon, Trinity Western and UBC are all ranked as top-five teams in the country. For Brandon to do well, Wilson knows that his team will have to stay healthy and not look too far ahead.
"In Canada West conference, there’s very little room to feel good or bad about yourself because things can change so quickly," he said, "so it’s a matter of staying focused one game at a time and going from there."
CAT SCRAPS: Davies is battling an eye infection, but hopes to play Friday … The Bobcats will raise their Canada West championship banner to the HLC rafters before Friday’s match.
No. Name Position Year Height Weight Hometown
1 Jeremy Davies Lib 2 5-9 155 Calgary
2 David Stasica S 3 5-11 170 Winnipeg
3 Joel Makara LS 1 6-1 205 Selkirk
4 Daryl McCharles OH 3 6-5 215 Brandon
5 Liam Matheson LS 1 6-3 183 Tauranga, NZ
6 Frank Jones M 4 6-8 215 Calgary
7 Sebastien Steigmeier RS 4 6-7 220 Geneva, Sui
8 Mack Mravnik S 1 6-5 190 Winnipeg
9 Dan Boutwell M 5 6-7 210 Kenora, Ont.
10 Sam Tuivai LS 3 6-4 215 Auckland, NZ
11 Roy Ching S 2 6-5 202 Nelson, NZ
12 Conan Mickey LS 2 6-2 190 Brandon
14 Ty Moorman M 1 6-7 225 Penticton, B.C.
15 Scott Vercaigne LS 2 6-3 188 Winnipeg
16 Brendan White M 4 6-9 218 Brisbane, Australia
RS Daven Pascal M 1 6-8 200 Brandon
RS Jared Friesen S/OH 1 6-4 180 Brandon
Head coach: Grant Wilson (second season)
Assistant coaches: Ed Zalusky, Warren Birch, Pat Thompson, Kyle Dellezay.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 24, 2013