WolfPack Athletics introduces new CIS programs, including swim team

Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω

Captain Rolena Debruyn and the rest of the cross country team will be among those moving to the CIS in 2014. - Photo by Kevin Murray

Captain Rolena Debruyn and the rest of the cross country team will be among those moving to the CIS in 2014. – Photo by Kevin Murray

Changes are on the horizon for the TRU athletics department – September 2014 will bring with it the transition of six of TRU’s teams to the Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CWUAA) of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) governing body.

Men’s and women’s soccer and cross country running will be TRU’s latest additions to CIS, joining TRU’s current CIS sports – men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. TRU will also add men’s and women’s swimming to its list of CIS teams when the swimming program begins in 2014.

“It narrows what we have to do as a division because we’re not in multiple conferences,” said Ken Olynyk, director of athletics and recreation at TRU. “It brings what TRU is doing to the same level as what other institutions are doing that we benchmark ourselves against.”

The CWUAA is western Canada’s regional athletics association and co-ordinates member schools in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The CIS governs CWUAA and is the university equivalent of the Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) where a number of WolfPack teams currently compete. The CCAA primarily governs athletics for colleges in Canada.

Though the CIS is not advertised as a league for higher-level athletics, the size of its member institutions and their financial support, recruiting abilities and national reputations have led to that being the case.

“The CIS overall is a higher-calibre league,” said men’s soccer co-head coach John Antulov. “The top one or two teams in the CCAA can give some of the lower CIS teams a good game but overall the level of play is much superior [in the CIS].”

As a B.C. research institution, TRU competes with many of the CIS’s member schools in academics and now hopes it can do the same across athletics. With this transition completed, the athletics department will close the book on moving teams to the CIS. Golf, badminton and baseball are not recognized CIS sports, leaving only hockey with a CIS counterpart. Don’t expect that transition to come any time soon.

“I don’t see hockey going CIS,” Olynyk said. “I think that the group that we work with, that we partner with for hockey, that isn’t their goal either so right now there’s no intention at all of putting hockey in the CIS. It’s also very expensive, much more expensive than probably the other sports combined that we’re putting in.”

Positives and Negatives

The transition to the CIS brings many benefits with it, though it’s not without its pitfalls as well, according to Olynyk. He acknowledged that bringing successful teams, like the men’s and women’s soccer teams, into the more competitive CWUAA of the CIS is certainly a risk. It’s something the athletics department dealt with when its other teams made the transition. TRU’s volleyball and basketball teams enjoyed more success in their days in the CCAA.

“Women’s soccer has had tremendous success at this institution, been to a number nationals, won national championships,” Olynyk said. “Men’s have been to nationals in soccer and won national championships and can we sustain that at the next level? That is a concern.”

Olynyk believes that recruitment of athletes is one area where TRU stands to gain the most from transitioning to the CIS. In his opinion, there may be a perception among recruits that it’s better to play for a middling CIS team than a perennial championship team in the CCAA. Moving to the CIS will also help TRU retain more local athletes who might be tempted by CIS athletics programs elsewhere.

“We’re not going out to try and change that perception but we would like to be able to recruit on the same level,” Olynyk said. “From my standpoint I see it as being advantageous in some respects to be in CIS because if I’m recruiting you as a CCAA program in soccer versus a CIS program in soccer, your perception could well be that CIS is a higher level so you want to go there. That’s what we want to try and avoid [by moving into the CIS].”

Antulov confirmed that not being a part of the CIS limits the pool of players his team is able to choose from when it comes to recruitment. Being a CCAA team brings with it some unusual challenges and it can even be difficult to retain athletes who were once part of the program.

“We have been very fortunate as we do believe we have some CIS-calibre players in our program and other CIS programs are noticing these players and as coaches we are pushing those players on to those programs — as we should — but to the detriment of our program,” Antulov said. “They would stay if we were CIS.”

WolfPack Swim Team

As the athletics department transitions to the CIS in 2014, TRU will also be adding both a men’s and women’s swim program to the department, a project that athletics director Ken Olynyk said has been in the works for approximately five years.

Currently, the Kamloops Aquatics Club has a number of TRU students on its team and while these athletes are not considered TRU student athletes at the moment, the addition of the CIS program would bring them into the WolfPack family. The athletics department has already agreed on a partnership with the Kamloops Aquatics Club that would have TRU supporting student athletes and contributing a portion of head coach Brad Dalke’s salary. Dalke and the Kamloops Aquatics Club could not be reached for comment.

Olynyk said that athlete demand for a swimming program is certainly present and would help to keep a number of local athletes in Kamloops.

“The whole thought is that we can build and have some of those kids that are in the Kamloops club, rather than go away, stay here and continue to swim and represent Thompson Rivers University,” Olynyk said.