Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω
The WolfPack men’s volleyball team played what felt like two home exhibition matches on the weekend, even though one took place in Prince George.
The men defeated the UBC-Okanagan Heat on Thursday at the Tournament Capital Centre (25-20, 25-17, 22-25, 25-22), before heading out on the road and winning in Prince George (25-14, 25-16, 25-21) Friday. They also played in Quesnel on Sunday, but were unable to get in a full match as travel restraints forced them to leave early; that match ended 2-2.
Despite Thursday’s match being the only one that took place on the WolfPack’s home court, TRU’s abundance of Prince George-born players made for what felt like a home crowd.
“I started four of the Prince George guys, so Spencer Reed, Colin Carson, Nic Balazs and Jordan Foot all started, and we won 3-0,” head coach Pat Hennelly said Sunday. “It was really good volleyball in the third set and they had 1,400 fans there and 95 per cent of them were cheering for us.
“People are out cheering for the guys they know so it’s exactly what I want (the exhibition tour) to do, is to get some of these young kids exposed to high-level volleyball and for our hometown guys to play in front of their fans.”
Hennelly went on to say that next year there are plans to add stops on the Sunshine Coast and in Courtenay for the same reason.
One of the WolfPack’s early standouts has been Brad Gunter, Hennelly said. Gunter, who spend part of his summer playing for Canada in the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball World Championship in Izmir, Turkey, had twelve kills Friday.
“You can certainly tell there’s some confidence, which always helps, and he’s developed better shot-making abilities,” Hennelly said, adding that Gunter expanded his repertoire of hits over the summer. “We’re going to give Brad 40 to 60 per cent of our offence, it’s nice to have some different shots.”
The weekend was the first opportunity the WolfPack has had to play against a fellow member of the CIS. It was a good measuring stick for the ‘Pack, who could be fighting with the Heat for a playoff spot throughout the regular season, which begins on Oct. 25 in Kelowna, against the Heat.
“I really see third through ninth as being a really close race,” Hennelly said. “I think if we can get over nerves and the disappointment of not making (the playoffs) last year and not having that experience, I think we can be quite successful.
“The pieces are all there, how it plays out, I think the first two weekends will be a strong indicator because we’re playing two teams that weren’t in the playoffs last year, along with ourselves. Ourselves, UBC-O and Calgary are all looking at each other saying, ‘This is a team we have to beat to be successful this year.’”