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By Nick Patch

Ryan Vandenburg not only looks like a professional on the volleyball court, but his dogged team-first attitude would serve him well at a professional level, too.

Snake, as he is known, is the front-runner for Ryerson’s male Athlete of the Year award. If he wins, it’ll be his third straight year winning the award — tying a Ryerson record set more than 20 years ago.

But after a disappointing loss at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship for his volleyball squad, which was favoured to win after an 18-2 tear through the regular season, Vandenburg downplayed the significance of the personal honour like any media-savvy sports vet would.

“It is nice sometimes to get personal recognition, but nothing really makes up for a season,” he said. “You don’t play for the awards, you play for the championship, and a banner would definitely be 100 times better than a trophy.”

Vandenburg has some competition for the prize: Matt Fugard, also of the volleyball team and OUA first team all-star; and Sherman Lam, badminton team captain and an OUA all-star.

For Vandenburg, it would be just the latest accolade for one of Ryerson’s most decorated athletes. He earned the OUA’s Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive year, he was CIS first team All-Canadian and has an upcoming tryout for the national team.

Even if it’s not quite a consolation prize, however, his third consecutive Athlete of the Year award might have some special meaning. “Just to win it once is an honour,” he said. “To win it three times… there’s not much you can really say to describe it. There’re only a couple people that have actually done it, I’ve heard.”

Actually, just one. Joe Dell’Aquila was a force in Canadian amateur wrestling in the mid-1970s. The Ryerson sports hall-of-famer won awards at the national and provincial level and even wrestled abroad. He is the only Ryerson student to win male Athlete of the Year three years in a row. Dell’Aquila said that now he’s pulling for Vandenburg to join him in Ryerson sports lore.

“I wish him luck a thousand times,” Dell’Aquila said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing whether it’s two, three, four or five awards.

“This is great not only for (Vandenburg), but for the school.” Men’s volleyball coach Mirek Porosa also thinks Vandenburg’s success is good for Ryerson. “We don’t have a very deep sports history,” Porosa said. “He’s going to be one of the main guys to remember. A future hall-of-famer.”

Porosa, however, echoes Vandenburg’s team-first philosophy. “Volleyball is really a team sport,” Porosa added. “Three people need to touch the ball to score points most of the time.”

But even within that team atmosphere, Vandenburg stands out and causes trouble for opposing coaches. “Many teams just set up the game-plan to neutralize him, and it’s easier for other people on our team to score,” Porosa said.

He added Vandenburg has improved with each year playing for Ryerson. This season, his consistency in serving and blocking has been a big part of his maturation, Porosa said.

“I hope he comes back next year, so he has a shot at another MVP (award) and to make history for himself and for Ryerson.”

Vandenburg thinks he will, in fact, be returning for another year, if for no other reason than to help Ryerson take home a championship. “Yeah, I think I’ll be coming back,” he said. “I gotta win one of these things.”

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