By Daniel Rocchi
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” wrote the great military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu.
If Ryerson’s men’s volleyball team hopes to improve on last season, the best campaign in program history, their head coach believes they’ll need to take a page out of Sun Tzu’s book.
“We’re going to need to know our opponents very well, I would say better than we have in the past, in order for us to play well as a team,” said Dustin Reid, who returns to the head coaching position for a second season after taking over on an interim basis before the start of last year. “It’s hard to adjust to different things the other team’s doing and if you’re not able to control the ball … then you’re always playing catch-up and that’s something we don’t want to do.”
The Rams are coming off an historic year that saw the team make its second-ever appearance in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) finals and earn the program’s first national championship berth. Ryerson lost in straight sets to McMaster as the Marauders won their fourth straight OUA title and dropped both their national tournament games against Trinity Western and Laval. Reid believes the team can build on last season’s progress, but they’ll have to do so with a new identity.
This year, Ryerson will be without five fifth-year seniors who were all integral to the Rams success last season. Outside hitters Robert Wojcik, Alex Dawson and Brandon Jordan – who finished last year ranked second, third and sixth in team scoring, respectively – have all moved on from Ryerson, along with middle blocker Mark Reardon and libero and team captain Wesley Kosiba.
Wojcik and Dawson were both listed at six-foot-seven while Reardon was listed at six-foot-eight. Middle-blocker Uchenna Ofoha (six-foot-six), the team’s only fifth-year player this year, along with freshman middle blocker Riley Anderson (six-foot-eight) and second-year outside hitter Isaac McKeague (six-foot-five) are the only members of Ryerson’s 16-player roster listed at taller than six-foot-four. It’s a shorter line-up than one would typically see, according to Reid, who says the team will need to compensate for a lack in height with athleticism on the court.
“Our ability to move quickly, whether it be on attack or defence or blocking, I think that’s a big strength [of ours],” said Reid.
Leading that effort will be a strong core of six returning fourth-year players. Outside hitter Lucas Coleman, who ranked third in kills and kills per set in the OUA last year while leading the team in total attack, along with setter Adam Anagnostopoulos, last season’s OUA assist leader, will anchor the offence. Libero Will Otten will be counted on defensively after finishing last season with the third-best digs and digs per set totals in the OUA. With a physically shorter but capable roster, Reid said Ryerson needs a strong tactical approach in order to be successful.
“Our ability to make adjustments will be important,” said Reid. “To see what other teams are trying to do against us and make those adjustments.”
Game film and scouting will be integral to preparing for other teams’ strategies, according to Reid, but even that aspect of Ryerson’s game will have a different look this year. Brock University and Trent University will both dress OUA men’s volleyball squads as new additions to the league this season. The additions led to an off-season realignment that sees Ryerson playing in the newly-formed OUA East division that includes Toronto, Queen’s, York, Nipissing, RMC and Trent. The new league structure also includes a new playoff format that allows for cross-over games between eastern and western division teams in the early rounds of the postseason.
Regardless of the changes within the program and throughout the league, after claiming an OUA silver medal and a seventh-place national finish last year, the team has high expectations for this season.
“If we get past the semi-final match, which would be a really difficult match regardless of our opponent, then we’re looking at trying to do what we were out to do last year and having another opportunity at that and trying to do one match better,” said Reid. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the way we get there will be very different, the way we leverage the strengths of our players will be different than last year, but ultimately that’s our focus and that’s what we’re working towards.”
The men’s volleyball team opens its season on the road against the University of Toronto on Friday, Oct. 28 at 8 pm. The team’s first home game will be against Nipissing on Friday, Nov. 11 at 8 pm at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.