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By Eric Koreen

When Mirek Porosa heard the first line of his biography being read at last Thursday’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s volleyball award banquet, his knees started to shake.

“I heard (the master of ceremonies) say ’10 years at Ryerson’ and my mind just went ‘beep,’ and I didn’t hear anything else. I panicked,” said Porosa, who went to Hamilton on March 1 to support two of his players who were receiving awards.

“English isn’t my first language, so I was worried about my speech because I hadn’t prepared anything. But my colleagues said it was good.” One couldn’t blame Porosa, 49, for not having his speech written.

Traditionally, CIS gives its men’s volleyball coach of the year award, voted on by the country’s coaches, to someone from Western Canada. Porosa, by way of Warsaw, Poland, is the first volleyball coach from Ontario to win the award, as well as the first Ryerson boss in any sport to win at the national level. The stars aligned for Porosa this year because of the Rams’ meteoric rise from afterthought to powerhouse.

“Mirek has done a marvelous job of putting Ryerson on the map,” said Wally Dyba, who has coached the York Lions for 29 years. “Ryerson was one of the worst programs in the country, and now it’s arguably one of the best. So all the credit to him, he deserves it.”

Dyba isn’t kidding about Ryerson’s transformation. The team went winless for two seasons between 2001-03, before making the playoffs in 2004. This season, the squad finished 18-2 before losing to Queen’s in the conference final, narrowly missing the nationals. Porosa’s ascension was just as unlikely as his team’s. He played for the Polish national team as a world-class setter, and also played professionally in the country.

Porosa’s playing career, however, ended prematurely because of damaged cartilage in his thumb. He moved to Canada in 1988, because his daughter, Natalia, was having blood circulation problems in her knees. The doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children fixed the problem, and Natalia, 21, now plays volleyball at George Mason University, in Washington, D.C. The move also allowed Porosa to leave communist Poland, something he was eager to do.

Porosa became head coach at Ryerson in 1996, but worked part-time for the first eight years. After the team made an unexpected run to the playoffs in 2004, Porosa was rewarded with a full-time job. Porosa is quick to deflect credit for the team’s turnaround to many in the Ryerson community, especially towards athletic director Dave Dubois. “Everything started with Dubois’s hiring (four years ago),” Porosa said.

“We clicked right away, and he improved the financial aspect. “Before he came, (volleyball) wasn’t treated the same as basketball and hockey.”

Not surprisingly, Porosa’s players throw the praise right back at their coach. Ryan Vandenburg, a first-team all-Canadian, said Porosa uses a “no bullshit, no excuses” style on the court, but is a “father-figure” off it. Porosa’s son, Lukas, the team’s libero, said his dad has put in the time and deserves the accolades.

“It’s great to see it’s paying off for him with all the hard work and determination he’s put in. It’s nice for him to be rewarded for something that he never gave up on.” The elder Porosa has no plans to take time off. He said his team is well positioned to make a run at the nationals next year, with the core returning for another season.

But it won’t be easy. “There are five or six teams (in Ontario) who aren’t graduating anybody, it’s going to be a dogfight. But I believe in my guys.”

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