Hawkins steps in as youngest Canada West coach

Long-time men's volleyball coach Pat Hennelly to take a year-long leave of absence

Men's volleyball coach Pat Hennelly. (TRU Athletics)

Men’s volleyball coach Pat Hennelly will be taking a leave of absence effective immediately. (TRU Athletics)

The TRU men’s volleyball team will have a new head coach at the helm when they begin the 2016-17 season.

After 11 years in charge of the program Pat Hennelly has announced that he will be taking a leave of absence from the team effective immediately. Stepping into the role of head coach will be former WolfPack player and assistant coach Mike Hawkins.

“I started talking to Ken [Olynyk, Director of Athletics] sometime in October about the possibility. I’d asked the year before whether coaches could get leaves. The answer started out as ‘no.’ I guess this year turned out to be a good year because it was approved,” Hennelly said.

Hennelly is taking the year off for a mixture of personal and professional reasons. With a young family at home the veteran coach wants to spend more time with them while simultaneously working to complete a master’s degree.

Hennelly has been in charge of the ‘Pack since TRU volleyball entered the CIS in the 2005-06 season. After a rough first two years in the league in which the ‘Pack only won seven games, Hennelly and the team quickly turned things around, winning a CIS bronze medal and going to three straight national championships from 2007 to 2010.

Hennelly currently holds a record of 92 wins and 130 losses during his time with TRU and has guided the ‘Pack to the Canada West playoffs in six of his 11 seasons.

The coaching change is something that Hennelly thinks will prove to be of long-term benefit to the ‘Pack.

“We’re bringing in someone that will hopefully enhance the program. This allows me to sit back, evaluate and formulate some ideas about the direction of our program. We’re really looking on how to move from good-to-great into excellence,” Hennelly said.

After playing out his CIS eligibility with the WolfPack, Hawkins was an assistant coach on Hennelly’s staff for two seasons.

Mike Hawkins will replace Hennelly during his year-long leave of absence. (TRU Athletics)

Mike Hawkins will replace Hennelly during his year-long leave of absence. (TRU Athletics)

Since then, Hawkins has been an assistant and head coach of the Lethbridge College Kodiaks, a team that plays in the Alberta College Athletic Conference.

“The fact that I was so comfortable with the city and the school just made the decision easy. It’s a pretty big jump for me to leave what I had going for me in Lethbridge, but I think if it was any other school this decision would be much more difficult. Kamloops and TRU is home to me,” Hawkins said.

At just 26 Hawkins becomes the youngest head coach in Canada West, something that he says can be a positive.

“Being able to relate to the guys. I just finished playing in this league so some of the things that they’re going through, the battles of managing their time and being a student athlete. I’m able to relate to them very easily. Being closer to their age might help give that instruction.”

With Hawkins being the head coach for just a single season one of the keys to long-term success for the ‘Pack will be a balance of Hawkins bringing in his own coaching style while still maintaining the cores of the program that Hennelly has put in place over the last 11 seasons.

“I’m not here to change the wheel, Pat’s been one of my biggest mentors. We think similarly enough on kind of base things in volleyball. We both like a very aggressive high tempo style. Because we’re similar enough it shouldn’t be a harsh difference from the way they did things this year to next year and then to when Pat takes over afterwards,” Hawkins said.

Hennelly will still be around the team, helping Hawkins with recruiting and in other areas.

“I’m just going to tweak a few things that are my own personal preference and Pat and I are going to be collaborating quite a bit this year, it’s not just going to be me out on an island. We’ve already had conversations about the changes that I want to bring. It’s going to be more of a collaboration and I’m just going to build on the things that they’ve done,” Hawkins said.

While steps are being taken to ensure the smoothest transition possible, only one thing is certain. For the first time since the ‘Pack started competing at the highest level of university volleyball in Canada there will be a different face patrolling the sidelines for TRU.

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