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This article was published 13/3/2019 (448 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
QUEBEC CITY — Grant Wilson’s journey to become one of the best volleyball coaches in Canada started with the humblest of beginnings.
Humble is naturally a word that jumps to the top of the list of words that define the Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball coach. He wasn’t recruited to move to the Wheat City and coach what’s now the No. 1 ranked team in Canada. No, he helped build it from nothing.
After he was called to accept his first U Sports coach of the year award at the all-Canadian awards banquet in Quebec City on Thursday morning, everyone there who knew him knew what he would say.
"Humbling. There’s so many great coaches out there, and we were just fortunate to have a very good year, and people rewarded our team and myself for that success.
"I’ve said it a few times, to me, it’s a team award. It’s a reflection of our team’s hard work and success. I have great assistant coaches, a great athletic director, great sports info people at Brandon University, it’s a complete team effort."
Wilson started his career the way a lot of coaches do. After graduating from Neelin High School and helping the Spartans to a provincial AAA varsity boys’ bronze medal his senior year, he felt compelled to come back — more than one of his players will tell you that losing doesn’t sit well with him.
Wilson served as an assistant for his old bench boss for a while. Then took the reins and led Neelin to its first provincial title in 1999.
"Being a Neelin grad and going through the program as an athlete, I knew what the program had gone through," he said. "Wanting to try to push that program to get to the peak, that all came to a head in 1999 when we were fortunate enough to win.
"It was just a real special group of kids I had, and I’m still in touch with a lot of those guys today."
Throughout those years, Wilson got involved in coaching provincial teams with current BU athletic director Russ Paddock, and went on to resurrect the Assiniboine Community College men’s volleyball program. He leaps at every opportunity to learn about the sport and help others thrive in it.
"I just found a passion for coaching volleyball. The more I coached, the more I wanted to learn," he said. "I continued to really love what I was doing, and thought that I’d like to consider it a career if at ever possible."
The perfect opportunity arose when BU started its volleyball program in 2005, however, Wilson urged Paddock to compete against him for the job, and Paddock was offered the position. That decision proved beneficial in the long run, as Wilson followed his buddy up the ladder and into the head coaching job when Paddock became the athletic director.
"I got to work with him for the first seven years of our program, which was an unbelievable experience," Wilson said. "I’ve been living the dream ever since."
Wilson has now coached Brandon to two Canada West titles, and led this year’s squad to a sparkling 20-2 record. The Bobcats have owned the No. 1 spot in the national rankings since early January, and Wilson’s squad swept all four major conference awards — a feat no other school has achieved.
All along the way, Wilson’s had his hand in the sport at all levels. His Brandon Volleyball Club features teams from 13- to 18-and-under levels, and there are more club teams and athletes taking part than ever.
"It’s been fun to watch, see our sport grow and see how it’s been embraced by our community. There’s a lot of great coaches in the Brandon area and it’s a credit to them for continually producing great athletes year in and year out."
While his body of work speaks for itself, Wilson will be the last one to tell you he’s the best university men’s volleyball coach in Canada, but Paddock is happy to chime in.
"I know the amount of work and dedication he puts to coaching, and it’s great to see him get that recognition," Paddock said. "He’s patient, but he combines that with a real intensity and really hates to lose. That’s what motivates him to put in the work, but at the same time, he has patience and is a good teacher of skills.
"That pays off in the long run with a lot of our players who weren’t necessarily star recruits coming out of high school. He’s been able to develop them and be patient with them, incorporating them into what’s now a winning culture."
Wilson’s players have a lot of praise for him as well.
"I was happy for Grant to win that award, and I expected him to win it," said third-year right side Elliott Viles, who was named the national player of the year at the banquet. "The amount of work he puts in that no one gets to see behind the scenes is great, and for him to get rewarded for that is really exciting."
Robin Baghdady, who was named to the U Sports all-rookie team added: "I felt that when I came here, Grant was really concerned with how I’m doing, and it definitely made my first month here easier."
Wilson isn’t relaxing after winning the award, as he’s still focused on winning the program’s first national title along with fourth-year setter Reece Dixon and the rest of the team.
"For him to get recognized is nice and important, but it means nothing because it doesn’t win us anything at this point," Dixon said. "It’s nice for Grant, but doesn’t win us anything."
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PLAYERS’ PRAISE FOR WILSON
Mason Metcalf, fourth-year player from Carman:
"He definitely puts a lot of work in that nobody sees behind the scenes. We’ve learned that first hand, he scouts teams really well. We have good video sessions, and while it’s a team award as he says, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him."
Seth Friesen, fourth-year player from Brandon:
"One of the first things he told us my first year is that nobody hates losing as much as he does. We didn’t know what to think about that, but it’s so true. He wants to win so badly, and he’s the reason we are where we are today."
Bryton Such, third-year player from Calgary:
"Something Grant’s positively influenced in me is always being a positive role model you can always talk to. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day, Grant’s up for a chat.
"I’m far away from my family, so it’s nice to have that positive team atmosphere he’s created, where I feel comfortable talking about anything with these guys."
Nigel Tolley, second-year player from Regina:
"Grant’s a great coach, always concerned with how everyone’s doing on and off the court. He provides lots of feedback and likes to shape everyone as an individual and a person. He expects a lot of big things from us, like coaching and being role models in the community."
Liam Nohr, first-year player from Brandon:
"I’ve known Grant for a long time, he’s coached me throughout my whole career. For him to get this award is quite deserving. He’s a guy who puts a lot of effort into his team and expects the best for everyone. … When we were younger, he was a lot more easy-going. That being said, he was the same person. He doesn’t change his coaching style, but expects a little more from you on the court."
Rylan Metcalf, second-year player from Carman:
"‘You have to hate losing more than you love winning.’ That’s one of Grant’s quotes he puts on us and we all take that in. His goal is to make us better volleyball players, but more importantly, better humans. Being a huge influence in the community is important to him and something he encourages in us, and I think he’s a great coach for that."