By Adam Button
Sweat-drenched and exhausted from another torturous tryout, the prospects for the volleyball team flop down on the gym floor and await the final cuts.
Head coach Mirek Porosa says that the hard work has just begun for the people who make the team. “I’m going to take you from pain to joy,” he says. “But first there will be lots of pain.”
“More pain?” I think. After the week of tryouts I’ve just had, I don’t want any more aches.
Walking into the RAC for the first volleyball tryout, I’m already hurting. A minor head cold is giving me a major headache. I follow a group of tall men into the gym.
As everyone pairs off to hit balls back and forth, I stand-alone hoping someone will ask me to join them. When no one does, I settle for a spot against the wall.
Thankfully, Porosa gathers the team to begin the practice. The hint of an accent I hear in Porosa’s voice is my first hint of the coach’s Polish heritage.
My second hint is his first drill. I learn that in Eastern Europe they train differently than in Canada. Porosa has us jog around the court, while alternating between bouncing the ball off our heads and volleying it. I hope the head-bounce isn’t one of Porosa’s offensive tactics.
Eventually, he leads us in what seems like a familiar drill. “Who is trying out for setter?” he asks. When I notice only two raised hands, I throw a third one up. I notice that one of the hands in the air belongs to all-star Lukas Porosa, the coach’s son. I’m not going to get his job. But since I was a setter in my high school days, I figure I have a shot at being the backup.
The elder Porosa pits me against the other setter. I get a bad feeling when I see the players smashing all of his sets and catching all of mine.
Coach Porosa taps me on the shoulder. “Are there any other positions you are thinking of trying out for?” he asks.
“Sure, I can play libero too,” I say, hoping I pronounced the name of the position right. The truth is, since the position was introduced three years ago I haven’t really learned how it works.
Later, a friend tells me that the Lee-bear-o is a back-row player whose job is essentially just to pick up spikes.
It sounds like just the kind of position I can play, but when the first spike comes I pop it into the ceiling. “Don’t worry,” I tell coach Porosa. “I just need to warm up.” After ten minutes, twenty excuses and two sore hamstrings, Porosa asks me to shag balls.
When I go to bed that night, I think things can’t get any worse. Morning proves me wrong — I’m barely able to get out of bed. My body aches and my head cold has turned into a feverish death-flu.
When I find a way to get out of bed, I head to Shoppers Drug Mart. That evening, when I walk into the Kerr Hall gym, I’m glassy-eyed. A potent mixture of chicken soup and Sudafed has me feeling much better. To add to my good fortune I learn that four team hopefuls dropped out of tryouts. Maybe my cold spread.
To start the practice, coach Porosa heads back into his European training style. First we job around the gym doing the breast stroke with our arms. We follow that up with the front crawl, the backstroke and the butterfly.
I was sceptical about running around the gym doing swim strokes, but the next day I have strained muscles I never thought I had.
With all the hard work, the players and coaches still find ways to have fun at practice. When veteran player Anton Hauser comes to a practice in his street clothes, coach Porosa asks him to join in a gruelling obstacle course. Hauser says he doesn’t have his shoes or workout clothes. “I’ll give you mine,” says Porosa as he gives up his T-shirt, shorts and shoes. Without flinching, he continues coaching wearing only black briefs and a wristwatch. As tired as everyone is, we all howl. “You’ll get athlete’s foot from those shoes,” someone says.
As the tryouts wind down, I start to feel like a part of the team, but it has to come to an end.
I have a seat with Porosa. “Well coach, do you think I can play on this team?” I ask.
“Do you want the straight answer or the diplomatic answer?” he replies.
“Straight,” I say, knowing that’s how Porosa likes to give all his answers.
“Not this year,” he tells me. My heart falls through the floor. But it’s not so bad. He says I can be a red-shirted player, someone who practices with the team and plays in exhibition games but doesn’t travel. He also says he is looking for someone to keep statistics for the team. As we continue to talk he tells me my strengths and weaknesses, “Your platform is good,” he says, “but your hands are terrible.” I appreciate his honesty.
Talking to Porosa it’s easy to tell that he feels guilty when he can’t play the guys at the end of the bench. For part of his stat on the Polish national team, that’s here he sat.
After a long talk, I pack up my bag and head to Bikini Village. If I’m going to tryout for the swim team I’ll need a Speedo.