Brandon met, did not exceed expectations

Bobcats men’s volleyball year-end report


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The Bobcats were exactly who Canada West coaches thought they were in the end.

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The Bobcats were exactly who Canada West coaches thought they were in the end.

Brandon University entered the 2022-23 men’s volleyball season ranked sixth in the pre-season poll and took the No. 6 seed for the playoffs.

Just meeting expectations, however, isn’t good enough for a program that perennially punches above its weight. The Bobcats expect to surprise regardless of how young they are, like when they snuck into the conference final four in 2022.

“Most teams in Canada West are built to succeed when you’re fourth- and fifth-year heavy. That was not us this year,” head coach Grant Wilson said.

“Our core’s younger than that. We feel the experience we gained this year and last year is going to give us a more competitive window in the next couple of years for sure.”

We wrap up our BU year-end reports with a team building toward another big U Sports championship run.


Wilson admits this group wasn’t on par with the ones ahead of his group, three of whom are in Hamilton at nationals this weekend. It was a building year and the 11th-year bench boss felt the team developed well.

The regular season started with a rude awakening as a split with Thompson Rivers and losses to UBC and Alberta dropped BU to 1-5.

The Bobcats split the Manitoba Bisons in a pair of five-setters, then rattled off nine of 10 wins in the easy stretch of their schedule. Seven of those victories came against non-playoff teams, but six were 3-0 sweeps.

“It was very exciting for our group to be able to put opponents away the way we did. There’s such a slim margin between the top teams and the bottom teams so you want to be able to take care of business on the nights you have opportunities,” Wilson said.

“We beat some really good teams 3-0. Those wins gave our team confidence and gave us the ability to compete with some of the better teams later.”

The streak ended with a 20-18 fifth-set loss to Saskatchewan after sweeping the bronze medallist Huskies the night before.

Then, Brandon fell hard on back-to-back nights at Mount Royal and lost to Trinity Western’s starters before cranking its bench to round out the regular season.

The Spartans welcomed the Bobcats to Langley, B.C., the following weekend and sent them home quickly with 3-1 and 3-0 wins in the quarterfinals.

Brandon received a few cards from officials on the weekend and at times appeared more focused on calls than plays. The Bobcats always play with emotion and an edge in that way so Wilson wasn’t too concerned with that. The bigger issue was his team’s mental game.

“At the end of the day, we have to be able to control our emotions. We have to control what we can control,” Wilson said.

“For the most part, we did that for some pretty good stretches in those games and when we didn’t, we paid the price, whether that was not communicating effectively with each other and letting a ball fall, not taking care of a free-ball pass and getting it where we needed, there were a few breakdowns that happened that led to Trinity runs.

“You just can’t give really good teams those kinds of opportunities because they’re going to capitalize.”


The Bobcats established an identity as one of the best blocking teams in the country, despite starting a six-foot-two right side in Rylan Metcalf and six-foot-four middle blocker Paycen Warkentin.

Philipp Lauter and Warkentin were both in the top three in Canada West with more than one block per set each. Lauter also played all six rotations, taking the back-row right-side spot to boost BU’s offence.

Both should be back next year.

“It’s huge,” Wilson said. “Both of them showed their dominance at the net blocking and both are obviously pretty big weapons offensively as well.

“We feel like they’re kind of the centrepiece of our offence and our team, definitely of our block defence so excited to have that type of corps in place for next year.”

The Bobcats adjusted to a new starting setter for the second straight season as second-year JJ Love of Dauphin stepped up.

Brandon had a nearly identical hitting percentage to 2021-22 at .235. In part, Love did that himself, posting 63 kills as his six-foot-seven frame and variety of dumps turned tight passes into scoring opportunities.

“He needs to remember Jake Fleming was doing it in his fifth year and we’re asking him to do it in his second. That’s a lot to ask. Overall, we’re pretty pleased with how JJ developed,” Wilson said.

Third-year Jens Watt solidified his libero spot, sitting second in Canada West with 2.05 digs per set.

There were questions about the outside-hitting trio going into the season. Who would it be? How would they compete as either undersized veterans or inexperienced youngsters?

The vets, namely Max Brook and his conference-leading serve receive, prevailed. Brook, Metcalf and Tom Friesen emerged as the starters as Wilson emphasized ball control.

Friesen improved his passing enough and led the team by a long shot with 307 kills and 3.04 kills per set, hitting .312.

“Tom emerged as probably our best offensive weapon this year and I really felt his serve reception came a long way,” Wilson said. “We just look forward to him continually improving on that same kind of path. If so, he’s going to be a force to reckon with for sure.”


Brandon loses four seniors for 2023-24 as Brook, Metcalf, middle Bryston Keck and setter Nigel Tolley move on.

But college transfer Riley Grusing, who spent two seasons as a Bobcat redshirt so he’d be eligible when BU hosts nationals in 2025, will finally debut in blue and gold.

The outside hitter, along with a young player ready to step up should help the Bobcats continue building toward a return to the national podium. That could be Liam Pauls or Liam Kindle, newcomer Jon Droppert or import Sam Chen, who are part of Wilson’s most anticipated rookie class in recent memory.

Time will tell how big a hole those four seniors leave.

“Most stuff that happens off the court, in the team room, behind the scenes more so than on the court,” Wilson said. “The guys we’re losing have put a huge stamp on the culture of our program. The guys moving up, they understand that.

“They’re going to have to fill some similar roles and we just hope they’ve learned as much as possible from those older guys and can continue to carry the torch, so to speak in terms of how we represent ourselves on and off the court.”


» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen

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