Sports

Cascades part ways with men's volleyball coach

University of the Fraser Valley athletic director Rocky Olfert announced last week that men’s volleyball head coach Greg Russell’s contract will not be renewed for the 2014-15 season.

Russell, a former member of the men’s senior national volleyball team who competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, had coached the Cascades since 2005-06, and recently completed his ninth season at the helm.

Russell guided UFV to tremendous success between 2006 and 2010 – they won three PacWest conference silver medals (2007, '09 and '10) and one bronze ('08) during that span, and added a fourth-place finish at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) national tourney in 2009.

In recent years, the Cascades didn't approach those lofty heights – they missed the playoffs this past season, finishing seventh out of seven teams in the PacWest with an 8-16 record, and had finished sixth in the conference the previous two seasons.

Olfert said the team's recent struggles were "a factor" in the decision to go in another direction.

"Ultimately, it just came down to a change," said Olfert, who thanked Russell for his contributions to the program. "It's been a fairly lengthy process, just evaluating where we are as a program and how the team is doing on and off the court."

Russell said he was "disappointed" at the decision.

"I was really looking forward to working with these guys (on the team)," he said. "Every one of the key guys are guys that I had a lot to do with, and I'm sure it's going to be a great team next year if they hang together. I'm really disappointed with that part of it."

Russell expressed pride in what he accomplished at UFV – by his second season, he had the Cascades on the PacWest podium.

"Right from the very beginning, my first season, there was a lot of size and it was just a matter of adding some skill and teamwork," he said. "I put a lot of energy and thought and work into the team, and they've been such nice guys and talented people to work with."

Russell had to deal with a couple of unexpected obstacles toward the end of his time at UFV. In 2010, his team was in line for a second consecutive trip to CCAA nationals by virtue of their second-place PacWest finish, but were denied their berth because the UFV athletic department, then helmed by Rick Nickelchok, had not filed the proper paperwork on time.

Then, in the fall of 2011, it came to light that the UFV volleyball programs – along with golf and rowing – could potentially be cut due to budgetary issues. Though a fundraising drive ultimately saved the teams, the uncertainty made recruiting more difficult.

Missing out on nationals in 2010, Russell said, was a "tough moment."

"It was a bit hard to continue after that – I had to do some soul-searching," he said.

UFV's search for a new men's volleyball coach will begin immediately.

"Ideally, it would be nice to have someone in place in the month of April, but I'm not sure how realistic that is," Olfert said.

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