The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack are confident as they make their return to the Canada West men’s volleyball playoffs after a two-year absence. The WolfPack will be doing something they have never done before in the post season: enter a quarter-final series as a host.
Thompson Rivers will entertain the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the best-of-three series. It begins Thursday night (Feb. 13) at the Tournament Capital Centre in Kamloops.
Both squads are nationally ranked. TRU is sixth in the final CIS rankings of the season while Saskatchewan is seventh. “We did sweep them here earlier this season,” said WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly.
“We just looked at the video of the fifth set from the Friday. It was 20-18 in the final set—like going into double overtime if it were hockey. We were successful on the Saturday night I think because of what happened there. But, it could have gone either way. This is a team which beat us up last year and kind of crushed our playoff hopes.”
The WolfPack could have a key offensive cog back. Third-year outside hitter Brad Gunter of Courtenay is working his way back into the lineup after tweaking an ankle two weeks ago against Trinity Western.
Gunter finished as the Canada West leader in kills (5.31 per game) and in points (6.04). He was also third in service aces (0.40) and eighth in digs (2.24 per game).
“Brad has been testing and jumping in controlled situations,” says Hennelly. “We are hoping to have him back. Brad really wants to play. He is a tough kid. He played in high school with a stress fracture for three months before it came to a point where he couldn’t walk. Most guys would have gone to the doctor before that.
“Brad is going to try and tough it out. It’s a matter of durability. We set Brad more than any player in the country. When he was gone, we had to modify our offence and different guys had different loads. We are hoping to get at least one solid match out of Brad. But we expect to use a similar lineup to what we had against Regina and try to be successful with that.”
Teams Evenly Matched
Hennelly says the teams have very few things that distinguish them from one another. “They have a lot of good, physical players who have played on the Junior National team with Colin Carson (WolfPack, 5th year, setter, Prince George, B.C.). Fraser (Bryan, 5th year, left side, Saskatoon, SK) and McLean (Braden, 5th year, middle, Birch Hills, SK) are good players. McLean played for Canada and started at the FISU games. They have lots of upside and we match up pretty well.”
Hennelly adds that being at home will be an advantage for his club while Saskatchewan holds the edge in playoff experience as they made it to the quarter-finals last season. “What makes it nice for us is that we finished at home and didn’t have to travel this past Sunday. With Monday being Family Day in B.C., we got a day off at school and the guys rested and practised in the afternoon. Those two days will be big factors. It will be a short week for everyone but Saskatchewan, has to deal with the travel.”
The WolfPack were the top team in the Canada West in the regular season in digs (11 per game ) while Saskatchewan was third (10.53). Thompson Rivers was second in hitting percent (.277) to Saskatchewan’s sixth place (.246). The Pack were second in assists (12.52) while Saskatchewan was seventh (11.42), TRU was second in service aces (1.36 and kills (13.29 per game). The Huskies were sixth (1.22) and eighth (12.25) in those categories respectively.
Hennelly says having the first game at the Tournament Capital Centre and games two and possibly three at the smaller TRU Gym on Friday (Feb. 14) will be a factor as well as to who wins. “Switching gyms could see the series go either way. They have some dangerous guys who have good offence.
“Both of us play good defence. It is just a matter of dealing with adversity. Obviously, we have played two matches last weekend against Manitoba at the old gym so we have some experience. But anyone who saw the match Saturday (Feb. 8—won 3-1 by Manitoba), a lot of balls hit the roof and they were half of the balls we hit. Whoever deals and adapts will prevail, but that is what playoffs are all about.”
Carson will again be the main man quarterbacking the WolfPack offence. He was the Canada West leader in assists (10.93 per game). Matt Krueger (4th year, libero, Abbotsford, B.C.) finished ninth in the league in digs (2.23 per game) while Jacob Tricarico (5th year, middle, Huntington Beach, CA) was seventh in hitting percentage (.412).
For the Huskies: McLean was third in Canada West in blocks (1.19 per game), Jordan Nowakowski (3rd year, left side, Regina, SK) finished ninth in service aces (0.28) while Fraser was 10th in digs (2.15).
Canada West Record Setters
Both Carson and Gunter appear many times in the Canada West record book after the regular season. Carson is second all time in career set assists (3,350), ninth in career digs (620) and 14th in career set assists (8.54). He also became the Canada West all-time leader in set assists in a single season (929) and is 10th in set assist average (10.93).
When it comes to regular season stats, Gunter set the kills record with an average of 5.31 in 22 matches. He is seventh in overall kills in a single season (356). Twice, he went into the record book with number of kills in one match: he is seventh all time when he got 31 in a victory at the Tournament Capital Centre Nov. 1, 2013 against Calgary. He then became tied for 10th all time with 30 kills in a match at the TCC versus the Brandon Bobcats on Jan. 10, 2014.
– Thompson Rivers University WolfPack