by Grant McDonald
“If we don’t win the OUA championship this year, I am quitting the team, I will never play Ryerson volleyball again,” said Rams volleyball centre Matt Fugard, following this weekend’s alumni game.
He’s confident. And with his team’s roster, one can see why.
The devastating spikes and serves of Ryan “Snake” Vandenburg prove his place among the nation’s best. He was Canada’s leader in kills, serving aces and points last season.
Matt Fugard and Nic Beaver look solid in the middle, apparently immune to gravity judging by the time they spend hanging over the net.
Rams rookie Oleh Kovalchuk, (“Oleh the barbarian,” Fugard said) impressed onlookers Saturday with his fierce serves and blazing kills.
It was a simple weekend of intrasquad and alumni games, but the Rams are set for a big year.
“We are ready. The future is bright for this team, but we don’t want to talk about the future,” said coach Mirek Porosa, entering his 10th year as coach. “This is the year, this is my 10th year. This is the anniversary and I want to bring home the banner.”
This weekend’s dominant play should be a sign of things to come from this lauded squad.
Rookies Erik Janssen and Maciej Hryniewicki join Kovalchuk to make up what Porosa calls the best recruitment year he’s had.
With every member of last year’s playoff squad, and new Leasebank sponsored jerseys, the Rams are well prepared for this season.
“(Leasebank is) buying the best uniforms for us,” said Porosa. “We’ll be the best team and the best dressed team.”
The players share Porosa’s high hopes for this season.
“We expect to be top contenders this year. I saw the team play last year and we have not lost many people,” Janssen said.
Janssen is a promising all-around player who, like last year’s Rams captain Anton Hauser, plays beach volleyball. Janssen’s predictions for this team are set high.
“Eric is one of the best beach volleyball players in the country for his age. He’s similar to Anton,” Fugard said.
“His jumping ability reminds me of Anton,” Porosa added.
The intrasquad games raise the level of competition for this year’s returning players.
“Last year we didn’t really have the depth to challenge the starters,” Fugard said. “You can just see the depth of the team when you play games like this.”
This year the depth is there, and some starters are feeling the heat. Kovalchuk is pressing for a starting spot, looking to line up at left side along side Vandenburg. Regardless, the team says they’re ready to go.
“They feel the pressure the department is putting on their shoulders as the best program in the school,” Porosa said. “We will respond. We are ready.”
What a great way to warm up for a new and exciting season of Ryerson volleyball.
This year’s men’s team took on a squad of Rams alumni Saturday, beating them 3-0 (25-9, 25-18, 25-22), while two alum joined the women for an intrasquad game.
“They’re pretty strong. They should hopefully do better than last year,” said Paul Grossinger, a 1996 journalism graduate and former Ram. “The program has come a long way since I graduated.”
“I can see the team’s quality,” said Ching Yang. Yang coached the team for five years before current coach Mirek Porosa took over. “The players are very big and have a lot of potential. It was a lot of fun.”
“It was fun to get some touches and play out there. I’m not in the same shape as I used to be. The young guys are some great guys to play with,” Grossinger said.
The women’s game was also a chance for coaches to evaluate this year’s squad.
“It was a great day to evaluate everyone as a whole, to see how certain people play with other people,” said Bob Cholette, the first-year women’s volleyball coach.
Cholette takes over for Arif Nathoo, who resigned last season to spend more time with his family.
“This year we’re running things a little bit faster, a little bit different,” said Cholette.
The women’s team is coming off a hot second half and a playoff appearance last season.
“We have a great, even team with skilled players,” Cholette said. “They can all get the job done.”