By John Mather
Five players showed up for Mirek Porosa’s first day as a Canadian university coach in 1995–not even enough to create a starting lineup.
Porosa, then a recent immigrant from Poland and the country’s former national team setter, said he learned quickly that he would have to work hard to turn the program around. He picked up the phone and convinced two players who had quit to come back.
He also brought in future Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East all-star Ryan McNeil. And he began molding the disenchanted team, whose last season’s record was 1-11 into a playoff contender. A decade later, Porosa’s team is 15-2, ranked first in Ontario, ninth in Canada (it is unusual for an Ontario team to break the national top 10), and looking to do what no Ryerson team has done before: win a championship.
The Forsyth Memorial Trophy is its official name, but for Porosa putting up a banner in his home gym is what matters. “I have a sentiment to Ryerson because Ryerson gave me their hand first 10 years ago when I came to this country to establish myself. I’ve been building to try and repay for it.”
The men’s last home game is tonight (Feb. 1) at 8 p.m. and when they return to Kerr Hall in two weeks playoffs will be on. Ryerson’s speed, size, power and experience make them a favourite to win, but they will have to contend with some powerful foes such as McMaster, Queen’s, Toronto and York, who all are aching to bump the Rams out.
“We’re feeling really confident this year in that we know other teams are really focusing on beating us and for the first year we’ve proven our that we can handle ourselves in tight situations,” said middle Mal Sampa. “This is the year that we should take it because it’s ours and if we lose it that’s our own fault.”
Porosa’s son Lukas, the team’s libero, said a championship would be a reward for all his father’s hard work. “I think it will be very special since it is his 10th season at Rye and he’s been building the team for quite awhile now.” Porosa built the team on raw talent. Recruiting ingenuity, Interuniversity Sport manager Terry Haggerty said, was needed since attracting highschool stars to Ryerson is no easy thing. “You almost wish you were starting from scratch.”
When Haggerty coached the men’s basketball team he said a program with no reputation stood a better chance at snagging athletes than the losing Rams. “You have to be sneaky,” Porosa said about recruiting athletes to Ryerson. Although in recent years the Rams haven’t been as hard a sell because of their winning reputation. Dave Dubois, program director of Sports and Recreation, credits Porosa for his uncanny ability to recruit impact players. “Once you get that one player it seems to attract more.”
For the Rams, that one player was Ryan Vandenburg. “Snake”, as he is known, was last season’s OUA all-star and two-time Ryerson Male Athlete.
Vandenburg’s 6’10” frame and penchant for kills–he earned a record 34 kills in one game alone in 2004–have not only brought other big hitters to the Rams, but have also given Ryerson a name on the national athletics scene. “When I came here we were nothing really and it’s just been getting better and better,” Vandenburg said.
A year before Vandenburg joined in 2003, Porosa brought current captain Anton Hauser and Lukas Porosa to the Rams. Their ability revived the team back to playoff potential after several years of mediocrity. Since 2003, the Rams roster has been rounded out by the Greg and Roger Marszalek, Nic Beaver, and Matt Fugard.
But it wasn’t until this season, Dubois said, when they began to function as a unit, with Porosa and their fulcrum. As for a possible championship, Dubois has his fingers crossed. Winning, for him, would symbolize Ryerson’s growth in the last decade. “It is a sign that we’re becoming one of the leaders in the world of university sport.” Fan support, he added, might give the team an added thrust in the playoffs. “They are an exciting team to watch and I wish our students would come out,” he said.
“When the team wins, they win for every student here.” Haggerty, who first came to Ryerson in 1981, has watched the men’s volleyball team evolve from the start of Porosa’s tenure.
“I think you’re seeing the end result of a lot of years of building.”
Haggerty was the head coach of the men’s basketball when the team won an OUA East division title in 1999. It was the school’s first divisional title and the first time Ryerson competed in the national playoffs. Haggerty said his team’s playoff success came directly from playoff experience, and he expects that will also help out the men’s volleyball team. S
till, Haggerty concluded, work ethic can ultimately be the deciding factor in a championship game. “And man those guys work hard.”