Nathan Crosby, Sports Editor Ω
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on the first warm day of spring in Kamloops and students were walking around TRU in shorts.
But Brad Gunter was trapped inside writing a math midterm.
When asked how it went, he replied in his usual soft-spoken and to-the-point manner.
One can assume there’s a lot on Gunter’s mind these days.
Since being named to the CIS all-rookie team, the WolfPack’s phonemenal right outside-hitter has a lot going on in his life.
Final exams are approaching faster than a Colin Carson pass. There are also the tryouts for the National Junior Team that have Gunter occupied while he recovers from the injured ankle that forced him to stop short in his sensational rookie year.
The big six-foot-seven, 205-pound right-side hitter from Courtenay, B.C. was one of the shining lights in a lost men’s volleyball season.
TRU finished last in the treacherous Canada West. Gunter sat out most of January with his injury and the WolfPack finished with a 3-17 record and lost eight of its last nine.
“It was painful sitting on the sidelines watching us lose knowing that I could have done something,” he said.
Gunter’s terrific first half of the season had him ninth in total kills at the semester break in the Canada West.
He would finish the season averaging three kills a game, which was 16th overall.
The WolfPack won its third game of the season the same night Gunter went down. It was the second match against UBC in one weekend and TRU won three straight sets after losing the first.
He went for the kill and landed awkwardly.
“It all happened so fast,” he said.
“The set was hung inside and I had to adjust to it and I landed on someone’s foot. I came down, I was kind of dazed and I tried to get up and I realized I couldn’t put any weight on my foot.”
He would sit on the side for the next three weeks while his team fell quickly out of the playoff race with losses to Brandon and Saskatchewan.
He would see action in the last weekend against UBCO, which head coach Pat Hennelly admitted was rushed.
WolfPack fans, however, got a glimpse of who the new “big dog,’ as coach Hennelly called him, in the Canada West will be in the very near future.
Back home, Gunter’s father owns a meat-cutting shop. During semester break, Brad works for his dad skinning hogs and carrying sides of beef.
While most students go home for the holidays to ski, party and catch up with friends, Gunter is working.
It’s that hard-working persona that has coach Hennelly excited.
“I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s got a strong sense of work ethic,” the WolfPack coach said.
“I had high expectations of Brad and he exceeded them in the first semester.”
In Gunter’s first-ever game, he had five kills on 19 attempts against Calgary. The next night, he had 13 kills on 34 attempts. In a game on Remembrance Day in Regina, he had 20 kills on 36 attempts. Even against a tough Manitoba team, he put up 15 kills.
“Typically when you put a first-year guy out there, for every kill they make they are probably going to make one or two mistakes,” coach Hennelly said.
“Brad, like Gord [Perrin], got past that fast.”
Hennelly is referring to former WolfPack outside hitter Gord Perrin, who is the program’s all-time leader in kills. Perrin also came from a small B.C. town and managed to bring TRU volleyball to relevancy in the CIS.
It was coach Hennelly who compared the two. Now that TRU is seeing players retire after five years of playing, Gunter will be the player to watch lead the ‘Pack into a contender.
“He’s hitting a world-class ball as a first-year guy. Whether he’s realizes it or not, he’s doing it,” Hennelly said.
“He comes down, has that little smirk on his face and I don’t even know if he realizes how good of a hit he made.”
Hennelly, who has coached the men’s volleyball team since joining the CIS, goes back with Gunter a couple of years. He coached the young Courtenay product twice with Team B.C. and said if there’s anything he trusts about Gunter’s game, it’s his instincts.
The WolfPack got to match up with the Stanford University in exhibition play over the semester break and it certainly was one of Gunter’s favourite memories of the year.
Here is a NCAA Division I school that was ranked as high as third in the nation at one point and TRU took them to a 35-33 game, the equivalent of what would seem like three overtimes in hockey.
“We played some of our best volleyball against them,” Gunter said.
“It was awesome comparing the two teams because they are a huge school.”
Gunter spent the games matched up with Brad Lawson and Brian Cook, two of the top players in the USA..
But the kid from Courtenay made Silicon Valley stop and take a look.
“You could see [Stanford] looking at him like, ‘who’s this kid?’ as they looked at the roster,” coach Hennelly said.
“At one point I looked at their coach and he was shaking his head saying, ‘wow that was a good hit that guy just made.’ Stanford is a legitimate team with big-size guys and Brad was one of the best guys on the floor.”
As bright as the second half of the season looked for Gunter, bad luck got in the way.
The ankle injury suffered at UBC gave him a lot of time to think about the future of the ‘Pack and where he fits into it. He has started practicing with his teammates and said that the healing process is going well.
That ankle will be healed in time for Gunter to try out for the Canada National Junior Team, with tryouts expected to start in June.
If all goes to plan, according to Hennelly, he should have no problem making the team despite missing a large chunk of the 2011-2012 schedule.
Still, Gunter’s optimism and work ethic will become the biggest factor for the men’s volleyball team’s success, and he’s ready to make it happen.
“I hope to be at the top, and the next couple of years are looking pretty good,” he said.
It’s going to be a busy summer for Gunter and head coach Pat Hennelly, but if this rookie season showed WolfPack fans anything, it’s that the future is shining as bright as the first day of spring in Kamloops.