While the hype around campus this fall is centred on preparations for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Women's Volleyball Championship to be held in the Jack Simpson in March, the Dinos men's volleyball team has been quietly rebuilding in hopes of making some championship noise of their own.
Over the summer, Head Coach Greg Ryan retooled his squad to bear very little resemblance to the team that ended their season with a 6-14 record last February. With only six returning players, there is plenty of room for the 10 new additions to the program to make a big impression--something they are already taking seriously.
"So far they're doing really well. They come to practice and work hard," noted Rob Ellis, the fifth-year mainstay on the Dinos attack. He fully expects to see some rookies in the starting rotation as the season gets started later this month. "We have more presence in the middle [this season], and our setter plays a different style. I can't wait to get started."
Along with veterans Paul Albert, Ryan Lenz, Cam Forster, Blake Adair and Ellis, go-to-guy Eric von Engelbrechten is particularly optimistic about the addition of Kazakhstan national team member Oleg Podporin to the roster.
"I've never missed going to nationals with a player from Kazakhstan in the lineup," he said in reference to his past University of Calgary experience.
Former Dino and Kazakhstan national team member Denis Zhukov hailed from the same hometown as Podporin, and was named CIS Player of the Year in 2002. This year's edition of the volleysaurs will be looking for a similar performance from their newest arrival, who will give the team some stability as an attacking middle hitter.
To try out the new combinations afforded by such impressive off-season acquisitions, the Dinos were in Saskatchewan Oct. 7-9 for a kick-off tournament. They won their opener versus the Brandon University Bobcats 3-0, dropped the next two to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and University of Manitoba Bison by identical 0-3 scores and rolled over the University of Regina Cougars 3-1 in their fourth match.
The final game of the weekend against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen was the closest of the tournament. Unfortunately, Calgary was edged out 15-13 in the deciding fifth set. Although they came away with a 2-3 record, von Engelbrechten was relatively upbeat about the results.
"'Okay' is the operative word," he hedged. "It got the new guys' feet wet."
The new-look Dinos will make their home debut Fri., Oct. 14 as the Husky Dino Cup jump-starts the season in classic fashion. This year's lineup features the University of Pacific Tigers, the Cougars and the Stanford University Cardinals. The tournament will showcase the Dinos' new roster and give the team a chance to gel before the games start to count.
"We get to see different styles and it lets us prepare for anything; broadens our game," explained Ellis.
Seeing the caliber of the American teams is something that the Calgary squad will be able to learn from. Plus, having the opportunity to, again, square off against their Canada West rivals from Saskatchewan will provide a great preview for the months of thrilling centre-court action to come.
The Dino Cup kicks off for the men at 2 p.m. on Friday as the Dinos prepare to take down the Cougars for the first time this season.