Sports

TRU WolfPack hoping home court will help their playoff drive

Brad Gunter and the TRU WolfPack men
Brad Gunter and the TRU WolfPack men's volleyball team are feeling the pressure as Canada West playoffs draw near.
— image credit: PHOTO SUBMITTED

KAMLOOPS—If there is any magic to home court, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack are hoping to utilize it this weekend.

The WolfPack are entertaining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in a pair of Canada West men’s volleyball matches on Friday and Saturday (Jan. 15-16). Both matches will be played on the Warner Rentals Court at the Tournament Capital Centre.

Thompson Rivers (4-10) is fighting to stay in the playoff hunt while the Huskies (7-7) sit in a .500 position. The WolfPack are coming off being swept by Mount Royal last weekend while Saskatchewan split in Brandon.

TRU Head coach Pat Hennelly looks at this weekend like this: “It is only a matter of time when you reach a number where you are theoretically or mathematically out. At this point, we haven’t reached that point.

"I believe that similar to last year, 12 or 14 wins will be the number you need to make the playoffs.  For sure there will be ties.  Right now because of what happened at Mount Royal we do not have a good tiebreak record.  I won’t look at it until we get more wins.

" We are trying to take this weekend as playing one game at a time.  We will take it a set at a time and establish a positive feel on the court. The only way we can make a run is if we have a positive effect on the court.”

Hennelly adds the goal is to get back on track mentally.

As he looks at the Huskies this weekend he sees a team which they have established a recent rivalry going back two seasons ago when TRU beat Saskatchewan in a best-of-three quarter-final series.

“We played them twice that year and beat them and took them two out of three in the playoffs.  The final game was very close, 21-19 in the fifth set.  Last year in their gym we beat them twice to get into the playoffs and knock them out, with another fifth set—as close as you can get in the sport of volleyball.

"We were fortunate to be on the top side of those sets. We have developed a rivalry for sure and we want to play them tough. We have a lot of respect for the U of S program and hope we can add another exciting match to this rivalry," Hennelly said.

Fifth-year outside hitter Brad Gunter of Courtenay, along with Graham Stoliker (5th year, setter, Surrey), Daniel Eikland Rod (4th year, outside hitter, Oz, Norway) and Brandon Hewwing (5th year, outside hitter Calgary) were key ingredients to the team’s success in the second half last season and will be counted on heavily this year.

Gunter leads the Canada West in kills (209), is second in kills per set (4.45) and is fourth in digs (108).

Hennelly says Stoliker, Gunter and Brandon Hewwing (5th year, outside hitter, Calgary have a lot riding on the teams showing over the last 12 matches. “This is their season and the end of their career. They obviously have a vested interest on how this plays out. All of them have had good seasons and we expect them to lead by example in the stretch run here.”

Teammate Kyle Behiels (1st year, middle, Edmonton is fourth in service aces per set (0.33).  He is one of a number of players who benefitting from increased playing time as the WolfPack look to find the right combination.  Hennelly says they are relishing their role so early in their career.

“I think the young guys are happy to be on the floor. We are trying to simplify things. We are literally approaching it as first set on Friday, second set on Friday and going from there. If you start to look ahead you are in trouble at any time in this league.

"The idea is to take these next 10 games and break them into pieces. If you look at it all at once it will crush you. The first piece is the game Friday. If you think about outcomes and think about what happens if you don’t play well: that hasn’t worked. We just need to get back to playing volleyball and enjoy the game.”

Saskatchewan’s top offensive threat is Tyler Epp (4th year, middle, Saskatoon). He is fourth in the Canada West in hitting percentage (.347) and third in blocks per set (1.13).

Hennelly says it's a crucial time for the entire league at this point: “The bottom line is that every team in Canada West right now has some sort of pressure. Can we get a home date? Can we get into the playoffs?  Can we create some space between teams? This is always the crunch time in Canada West.

"There are very few teams that are completely in and very few teams that are completely out. Everyone else is feeling the pressure. Ten teams are battling for something. It was the same thing as last year.”

Game times are 7:45 p.m. on Friday and 6:45 p.m. on Saturday. The games can be viewed at canadawest.tv.

 

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