By Don McHoull
Ryan Vandenburg lay sprawled on the gym floor, his crumpled 6-foot-10 frame a picture of dejection.
In his mind the volleyballer replayed the match that his team had just lost to York University.
His mistakes would haunt him for days. The missed blocks. The botched serves.
“I take it on myself,” said Vandenburg. “I didn’t play a good game.”
Already the tallest player in Ontario University Athletics, the 19-year old is said to have the potential to also be one of the best. But before he reaches that height, his head coach Mirek Porosa says the right-side hitter needs to develop a more consistent game.
“Right now he’s got talent and he’s got size,” said Porosa. “What he needs to improve and work on are his fundamentals.”
There have been times this season Vandenburg has been killer on the court. On Friday, as the Rams rolled over McMaster University, he made 12 kills with an impressive 52 per cent kill rate.
On Sunday the Rams big man came up short against York, killing only right per cent of his attacks.
“I don’t understand it,” Vandenburg said. “I tried just as hard on Sunday, but it just wasn’t happening.”
He says that the Yeomen figured out his game early on.
“They found my timing, and hit over my blocking,” he said.
The loss to York didn’t mathematically eliminate Ryerson from the playoffs but it still weighs heavily on Vandenburg.
“I’ve been going over that game so many times in my head,” he said.
The Rams won’t know until tonight if they make the playoffs. McMaster must upset the University of Western Ontario for Ryerson to advance.
If they do miss the playoffs, Vandenburg says he would be disappointed, but is still pleased with the progress the team has made this season.
“We’ve come a long way from going three years without a win,” he said.
With his combination of height and talent, Vandenburg attracted interest from American universities as a high school student in Wooler, Ont., a small town in northwest of Belleville. He says he gave their offers serious consideration before deciding to stay in Canada.
“I didn’t want my whole life to revolve around volleyball,” he said. “If it didn’t work out I didn’t want to wind up with a degree in basket weaving.”
Vandenburg, an urban planning student, says he ultimately picked Ryerson because of Porosa and his son Lukas, Ryerson’s setter, whom he befriended while playing on the same volleyball club team.
The elder Porosa says he sold Vandenburg on Ryerson volleyball, by focusing on the squad’s potential rather than its history of losing seasons.
“I was recruiting him based on the future,” Porosa says.
Vandenburg is a big part of that future.
Team captain Sasha Simic, who calls Vandenburg the “Shaquille O’Neal of volleyball,” says his teammate could one day be the top player in the OUA.
“He has the potential to be the dominate player, who can lift the team just by playing well,” said Simic.
Vandenburg grew up working on his grandparent’s farm in Wooler. He started playing volleyball because it was one of the few sports his high school offered.
Vandenburg’s volleyball teammates gave him the nickname snake, because of his lanky build.
Vandenburg is looking forward to next season at Ryerson.
“Next year we should be in the top four teams in Ontario, no double,” he said, pointing out that most of the Rams players will be returning. “We’re a really young team, and that’s the best thing.”