Captain Dan Boutwell has been a stalwart in the middle of a Bobcat lineup that has been frequently juggled due to injuries.
Bobcat head coach Grant Wilson believes the men’s volleyball team is finding its form after an inconsistent start. (FILE PHOTO)
The Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball team had a tough battle with injuries and a slow start to the Canada West season, which seems to be an annual tradition.
This time, however, it may put their playoff hopes in jeopardy as the squad, ranked fifth in Canada, is 7-5 and in fifth place in the Canada West standings, with a lot of obstacles to overcome to stay in the top seven. It’s with the men’s volleyball team that we continue the Bobcat mid-term reports.
Coming into the season the Bobcats looked like they had one of the most dangerous and balanced offensive attacks in the conference, but it didn’t take long for things to change. David Stasica, who just took over as starting setter from Garrett Popplestone, went down with an ankle injury in the pre-season and returned during the second week of the season when starting right side Sebastien Steigmeier went out with a knee injury. Things got worse two weeks later in Winnipeg when starting middle Frank Jones broke his right pinkie and it needed to be surgically repaired.
It’s hard for teams to deal with losing two starters at once, especially in a tough conference in which seven of the teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally, but that was the reality for Brandon. The Bobcats moved Roy Ching, who filled in at setter for Stasica, to right side, where he played most of last season during the Bobcats’ run to a Canada West title and a national bronze medal. Rookie Ty Moorman filled in at middle for Jones, who will have his cast removed later this month.
With so many changes, it took a while for the Bobcats’ offence to click, which is why they’re middle of the pack in most categories. Sam Tuivai, a second-team all-Canadian last season, is leading the way with 3.54 kills per set.
BU head coach Grant Wilson, however, believes the team is finally coming around.
"We maybe didn’t deal with it too well early, but as the time progressed we stopped focusing on what we didn’t have and started focusing on what we did have and from there I thought we definitely played better," he said.
"Certainly, both Sebastien and Frank were going to be big parts of our offence, but with them not out there we certainly have other people capable of putting the ball away, so it’s a matter of passing well and getting the ball to the right people at the right time and I think the more the term progressed and the more people got comfortable with our setting the more it happened."
While the team has been struggling offensively, the defence has really stepped up. Brandon is the second-best blocking team in Canada West and has the fourth-lowest opponents’ hitting percentage at .227.
Fifth-year middle Dan Boutwell, who captains the team, has quietly gone about his business and sits third in the conference with 1.23 blocks per set and is ninth for hitting efficiency at .351. Moorman has stepped up in the five matches he’s started and is eighth in the conference with 1.08 blocks per set.
Libero Jeremy Davies has been solid behind them, averaging 2.31 digs per set, which is sixth-best in the conference. While the Bobcats are middle of the pack in aces, their tough serving has a lot to do with Moorman’s and Boutwell’s success in the first semester.
"When we serve well we put them out of system and we do have some pretty big blockers so we can control the net when we get teams out of system, and that’s certainly the goal every time we step on the floor to do that," Wilson said.
"… We just continue to count on Dan, and he quietly goes about his business and it’s almost like we don’t even notice. Certainly he’s a huge factor controlling the net when he’s blocking, and we’re happy with the way Ty came in and made some contributions. He certainly has lots to learn yet, but with that being said, he’s come in and filled in admirably."
The Bobcats were a dominant team at home during the first semester, winning seven of their eight matches. However, they went 0-4 on the road and have seven of their final 10 contests away from the confines of the Healthy Living Centre. Add that Brandon is two wins ahead of the eighth-place Manitoba Bisons — the top seven make the playoffs — and that only two of their matches in the second semester are against a team with a losing record, and it’s plain to see BU could be in a fight to make the post-season.
The Bobcats are thrown right into the fire to start the semester by visiting the sixth-ranked Thompson Rivers University WolfPack (8-4) and the third-ranked UBC Thunderbirds (9-3) and will have to come together quickly to stay in a playoff spot.
However, they traditionally finish well and Wilson is hopeful that will happen again.
"There’s no question we’re in a tough spot, but as a group we’re confident that we can find a way to get some wins, whether it’s at home or on the road, and put ourselves in a good position where we can make a run," he said, "but it’s definitely going to take a big effort and it’s not going to be easy."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 13, 2013