by Josh Wingrove
Volleyball’s biggest and best met in Alberta last weekend for the 10th annual Husky Energy Can-Am Volleyball Challenge of Champions and the Ryerson Rams were one of four teams representing Canada.
The Rams won one of their four games, 3-1 over 2003 National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) champion Lewis University. The Rams, representing Eastern Canada, lost in three sets to the University of California at Los Angeles, in four to Brigham Young University and in five sets to 2005 champion Pepperdine University.
Despite the losses, the Rams say that international experience and upper-echelon level of competition can only improve this year’s squad.
“Just by playing in this tournament, you’re going to see a big difference because we know the level we need to get to,” said Rams middle Matt Fugard.
“We’re representing Ontario, showing up to prove volleyball is not just in the West,” said rookie Maciej Hryniewicki.
Coach Mirek Porosa agreed, saying his players get a lot from playing champion teams.
“This is the mecca of volleyball here,” Porosa said. “Just imagine now coming back home and playing the Ontario teams.”
The tournament sets each team up with a match against each of their opposing country’s entrants. The country that wins the most matches is declared the winning nation of the meet. Canada, represented by Ryerson, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and Trinity Western University, won this year, taking a seven to three lead in the tournament’s history.
“I think the biggest thing when we started this 10 years ago was to try to give our athletes an international experience,” said Alberta coach Terry Danyluk, founder of the tournament. “I’m a true believer that the more experience you have, the better you become as a person and player.”
Other coaches agreed that such a meet is important for their squads.
“We get hit with the lights on, with people in the stands and with the refs,” said Pepperdine coach and American Olympic assistant coach Marv Dunphy. “It’s real good for us. It’s a little early, but I think it’s a little early for everybody.”
Both Trinity Western and Alberta went undefeated in the tournament, while UCLA led America with three wins. Rams setter Greg Marszalek was named a Canadian tournament all-star.
“This is the best place we can go because the teams back home have just started playing and they’re not quite good right now. And the teams in this tournament are,” said UCLA coach Al Scates, now in his 44th year as coach.
The Rams got a chance to play each of their three rookies throughout the tournament, as the team lost veterans Ryan Vandenburg and Anton Hauser after the first day. The two had to return home early for personal commitments.
The Rams were outsized much of the tournament. In the first game, Rams middle Nic Beaver was pitted against Pepperdine senior Andrew Hein. Beaver finished with seven kills, Hein nine, while both middles recorded four blocking assists.
“We’re coming out of this with huge experience. I’ve learned so much playing against these 6-11 guys, and I’m 6-3,” Beaver said.
“You saw Nicolas Beaver… against these monsters on the other side. He looked like a smurf,” Porosa added.
The Rams say their win over Lewis University, which has lost most of its championship team to graduation, showed they can compete at this level.
“We finished on a winning note. We’re tired, but the future looks bright,” Porosa said. “Overall it’s a good experience for us.”
The Rams return home in preparation for their upcoming season opener Oct. 28 when they visit Queen’s University.
“We’ve got two weeks to correct minor things,” Porosa said.
His players are looking forward to the start of the new season.
“We have things to work on. This is the time that other teams are going to exploit our weaknesses,” said libero Lukas Porosa.
“This trip is a starting point and it shows that we are at a fairly competitive level,” added Fugard.
Regardless, the Rams have returned home after representing Canada against the past champions of the United States. Expectations and hopes for this season are high and the players are ready to move on to the level of last weekend’s successful programs.
“We basically just raised the bar for ourselves, and there’s no way back, no way down,” said rookie Oleh Kovalchuk. “So we need to keep the bar that high, and set it even higher and even higher until we’re making history.”