Joel Small and Bryce Wilson know there is nowhere to go but up.
The new head coaches of the Assiniboine Community College Cougars volleyball teams are looking to rebuild the programs after both struggled to 0-18 last-place finishes last season in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference, and even failing to finish the year in some previous seasons.
Two weeks after being brought on board, both Small and Wilson have started planning for the upcoming season and are optimistic they can restore stability and credibility to the programs.
"Yeah, that’s kind of the message that I got from the college is they are trying to rebuild the program and the whole league is on board with making the league better and more consistent," said Small, the former Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball team standout who will guide ACC’s men’s program in 2014-15. "So we’re kind of at a rebuild stage and starting fresh."
Like Small, Wilson is also anxious to get going and see what he can do to put his stamp on the team and build the Cougars women’s squad into a competitive program.
"I think it’s going to be a great challenge and that’s kind of one reason that I wanted to look at it and take it on," said Wilson, who brings 16 seasons of experience coaching high school and club teams and has six provincial titles and three national medals to his credit.
"I think the challenge will be to get it back to a credible program and get the proper people in place to make the program successful ... It will be like building a new team. I know there’s some people returning and a couple of new ones coming in for sure and the tryouts will be at the end of September, so I am looking forward to the opportunity."
Manitoba’s top volleyball prospects are heavily recruited by Canadian university and NCAA schools, with the BU Bobcats’ successful men’s and women’s programs both featuring plenty of local talent. However, Small and Wilson believe there is plenty of talent left in this volleyball-rich recruiting area that they hope to tap into.
"One hundred per cent there is enough depth with the increase of club volleyball in this area ... kids who are just looking for a place to play and go to school," said Wilson, who takes over a Cougars women’s team that did win 12 of 66 sets despite going 0-18 in their matches.
Both Wilson and Small will have some scholarship money to work with to try to land a couple of top recruits.
"I have looked at a few players, but I haven’t done a bunch of recruiting, I am going to see what we have at the college when the season starts," Wilson said. "This year will be about learning and building."
Small will use his connections in the provincial volleyball community to help recruit talent for the Cougars, who are starting from scratch after going 0-54 in sets played last season.
"I have quite a few connections around Manitoba with friends of mine that I have played with and guys that I know and coaches that I know and getting in the high school system is mostly going to be our feeder for ACC," Small said.
"I’ve started the very basics of recruiting, more of getting the chatter going with people that I know and just trying to collect some bodies. I have talked to some rural high school coaches, Brandon high school coaches, just to see who is out there who are looking to play."
After competing at both the Canadian college and university levels in his career, Small hopes to use his experience as an example for young recruits. He is also hoping to create a closer connection with BU, possibly creating a recruiting pipeline where players can get experience with ACC’s college program before making the jump to the university game.
"There’s nothing better than having a program feeding another program and my relationship with the Bobcats is fairly well known around town, so potential athletes will see that and think maybe I will take a one-year or two-year program at ACC and play for the Cougars and then hopefully I can move on to the Bobcats in my third year," said Small, who started in college and went on to become a Canada West conference all-star with the Bobcats before spending time with the national team program.
"I went to college my first year and I didn’t really come into my own until my third year of volleyball. So there are a lot of players that are overlooked right out of high school that aren’t kind of the stud players yet, but with a couple of years of college, they can turn into really good players."