New Zealand import Sam Tuivai of the Bobcats hammers a ball at a Regina Cougars defender in Canada West action on Oct. 26. (FILE PHOTO)
It was a wild ride for the Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball team this season.
The squad went on a roller-coaster ride that resulted in a 10-12 record in the regular season. However, the Bobcats started to peak at the right time and reached the Canada West conference semifinals before falling and missing a chance to earn a second straight trip to the CIS national championship.
A look at the BU men’s squad concludes our year-end reports.
It was a rough season for Bobcat players with all but two suffering injuries this season, but two of them really hurt. Right side Sebastien Steigmeier went down with a knee injury early in the year that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks, and he was eased back into the starting rotation when he did return. Middle Frank Jones then broke a finger against Manitoba that kept him out for the final five matches of the first semester.
Brandon tried to make do with the depth of its bench, as Brandonite Daryl McCharles and backup setter Roy Ching filled in for Steigmeier, a member of Switzerland’s national team. Meanwhile, rookie Ty Moorman stepped into Jones’ spot at middle.
The Bobcats survived and were 7-5 at the Christmas break, but they went on a five-match losing streak to start the second semester and didn’t win on the road until the final week of the regular season to lock up the seventh and final playoff spot.
The Bobcats, however, started to gel as the second semester progressed and upset the UBC Thunderbirds, who were ranked fourth in the country, in the first round of the playoffs before falling in four sets to the host Trinity Western Spartans in the semifinals. The winner of that match advanced to nationals. Brandon then fell to the Thompson Rivers WolfPack in the Canada West bronze-medal match.
BU’s role players kept the team afloat early, which was key in Brandon finishing well.
"It’s probably the most depth we’ve had over the years, and it’s a good thing because it allowed us to stay competitive and pick up some wins along the way," Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson said. "It’s not always going to be that way, but we were fortunate this year and hopefully from all that adversity, it will make us a better team next year."
While the end result of getting to within one win of a trip to nationals is a good accomplishment for the Bobcats, the journey to get there was pretty rough, especially considering the talent they have. The Bobcats were stacked offensively this season with Steigmeier at right side, Sam Tuivai, a second-team all-Canadian in the 2012-13 season, and Brendan White at left side, and Frank Jones and captain Dan Boutwell in the middle.
Boutwell capped his career with a solid season, finishing fourth in the conference with a .426 attack percentage and ninth by averaging 1.00 blocks per set. He was named a second-team conference all-star.
Steigmeier brought down Tuivai’s workload, but the New Zealand import still finished ninth in Canada West with 3.50 kills per set and 10th with 4.05 points per set.
With so many options around him, it’s no surprise setter Dave Stasica averaged 9.31 assists per set, sixth most in Canada West, while libero Jeremy Davies quitely dug up 2.40 balls per set.
All that talent made the Bobcats a threat, but it took a change of mindset to get them going late in the season.
"We had very high expectations as a group and sometimes putting those expectations on yourself adds pressure and I think at times the pressure got to us," Wilson said. "I think it got to a breaking point where we needed to stop worrying about winning and stop worrying about making the playoffs and just go out and play. When we started doing that, we became a much better team."
The Bobcats should be solid again next season. They expect to lose only one starter in Boutwell, although that will be a big loss for his on- and off-the-court demeanour. A few backups may leave as well, led by Brandonite Conan Mickey, who is transferring to Guelph University to study engineering.
With so many players returning, expectations will be high for the Bobcats, but the road to nationals will be just as difficult as it was this past season, with only two conference berths up for grabs in addition to the Saskatchewan Huskies getting one as hosts.
"I think it’s a bit more of a quiet confidence this year," Wilson said. "Guys were pleased to get into a one-game playoff to get to nationals but not so pleased to lose it. I think that will keep everybody motivated and hungry for next year, and the reality of it is all those teams that finished ahead of us essentially have their lineups intact too, so it’s not like we’re gaining ground against a bunch of teams that have graduating players.
"We know it’s going to be a very tough conference and we know the teams ahead of us are going to be extremely tough and it’s going to be another battle with only two teams going to nationals again. So we’re going to have to work pretty hard over the summer and guys will have to come in really focused and ready to go come September."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 28, 2014