Brandon University Bobcats import left side hitter Sam Tuivai hammers a kill in Canada West conference action earlier this season.
Last year, Sam Tuivai was one of the most dynamic men’s volleyball attackers in the Canada West conference.
The 24-year-old New Zealander led the conference with 4.34 kills per set and was named a second-team all-Canadian as the Bobcats won their first-ever conference title and a bronze medal at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship. The workload he had last year, however, left him beaten up when the season came to an end.
This season, Tuivai’s production has dropped — he’s seventh in the conference with an average of 3.54 kills per set — but the Bobcats don’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. The fifth-ranked Bobcats, who posted a 7-5 record in the first half of the season, added more offensive weapons — like right side Sebastien Steigmeier and middle Frank Jones — to support Tuivai this season, which is part of the reason his production has decreased, although his attack efficiency is now up 2.9 per cent.
"Offensively we definitely have more options, especially when everybody’s healthy," said Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson. "When we came into the year we said his attempts every game would be fewer, but he’s still going to get his kills. He’s too good not to and once he gets that connection with our setters, I think he’ll be in good shape."
The setters are the other big part of the equation for Tuivai’s success. Garrett Popplestone exhausted his CIS eligibility at the end of last season, and David Stasica and Roy Ching have filled in at the position this season.
Ching and Stasica have a six-inch difference in height and have different skills, which makes it harder to adjust. When you consider the fact that Ching started the season at setter before giving way to Stasica so that Ching could move to right side after Steigmeier injured his knee, and it has taken a while for Tuivai to build chemistry and consistency with his setup men.
"The first part of the season is always rough," said Tuivai, who has nine aces and averages 0.73 blocks and 1.92 digs per set this year. "Dave and Roy have different types of skills and different angles they’re setting, but the more we talk together and the more we practise, the more it’s getting comfortable to play."
As for the workload, Tuivai views the decreased number of sets as both good and bad. When the team is doing well, he likes that his teammates get chances to score big points and opponents can’t just focus on him. But when BU struggles, he wishes he could go back to that go-to role he had last season and put the team on his back again.
The 6-foot-4, third-year physical education student showed he is still a game-changer on Saturday night when he had six kills in the fifth set of Brandon’s 3-2 victory over the visiting University of Saskatchewan Huskies to close out the first half of the Canada West season.
While he is still one of the most dominant players in the conference, Tuivai knows he still has a lot of room to improve. He wants to be a more consistent server and passer, and Wilson can’t wait to see how much better he becomes during the second half of the season.
"He’s got unlimited potential," Wilson said. "He’s a very cerebral player and a very physical player. You combine those two attributes and good things are going to come out of it. I think he’s got some motivation there from last year, too, and I think the sky’s the limit for him."
The Canada West season resumes on Jan. 10 when Brandon visits the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack (8-4).
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 3, 2013