By Christie Melhorn, October 11 2017 —
With five straight wins in the University of Alberta Sofa Land Invitational tournament in late September, the Dinos men’s volleyball team have already proven to be a forceful team in the 2017–18 season. Despite not making it to the Canada West (CW) playoffs last season, the Dinos displayed strong technical skill and camaraderie last season. Right side hitter and 2017 CW all-star Curtis Stockton distinguished last year’s team by executing 424 kills — the most ever achieved by a CW player in a single season.
Though Stockton and other powerhouse players have graduated, the bulk of the roster is the same. Head coach Rod Durrant says the players’ shared experience is advantageous.
“It’s one of the closest groups I’ve seen come through here in the last five years,” Durrant said. “Last year, we had a lot of challenges. We started out really good and didn’t achieve our goal. But we survived and we’ll be better because of what we experienced. Now we’re more determined and want to prove we’re a contending team.”
Durrant explained that trust and respect are the foundations of determination and positive results.
“Any good team is built on trust. You need to trust each other. From there, we can work together to become a really good team,” he said. “Being vulnerable is valuable and it’s hard. But you have to be to grow and get out of the comfort zone. In a team environment, it’s important to know that it’s a safe place to succeed as well as fail. The egos are always going to be there but this year there is a great sense of respect and a team-first mentality.”
Durrant explained that part of embracing such a mentality comes with sacrifices made by returning and first-year players alike.
“We want our guys to be impact players but think in the way that if they’re not, they will try their best to help the guys beside them on the court,” Durrant said. “ The first years tend to not be on the court as much. But in a team environment, you have to accept everyone for who they are and provide an opportunity for them to develop and grow.”
Setter and fourth-year kinesiology major Blain Cranston says that Durrant’s trust for his players and process-based approach strengthens the team.
“We have this degree of freedom to push each other and find that thing that that work the best for us,” Cranston said. “[Durrant] being open to that allows us to excel in many facets.”
The athleticism and dedication already displayed by the players reflects their genuine passion for the game.
“Some have come back from over the summer in the best shape of their lives,” Durrant said. “Last weekend we saw some great performances in high pressure situations. We were far from perfect — it was definitely September volleyball — but they fought through it and that’s going to show value to approach in the regular season.”
In spirit of Durrant’s team-mentality philosophy, Durrant and Cranston agree that a main goal this season is to embrace every experience — positive or negative — as an opportunity to learn and grow together.
“To help our athletes be their best is our goal. We feel we’re providing the opportunity to provide a great team culture,” Durrant said. “There are highs and lows and at the end of the day, take it positively and you learn from it.
“Every opportunity we have, we want to be assertive and aggressive on the court and then maintain that strong bond off the court as well — building that family, ” Cranston added. “Right now, the culture in the gym is awesome and we want to continue cultivating that.”
The men’s volleyball team will have many opportunities to show their skill and sportsmanship in the annual Dino Cup this weekend. The Dinos will start off the event against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies at 12 p.m. on Oct. 13 in the Jack Simpson gym. There is no cost to attend and spectators may come and go at their leisure. Click here for the full schedule.
The team will start their Canada West season against the University of Regina Cougars on Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. in Saskatchewan.