How the mighty have fallen.
The University of Calgary men's volleyball team handed the former number-one ranked University of Winnipeg Wesmen two more defeats in Canada West action over the weekend.
The Dinos won 4-1 and 3-2, and again showed flashes of brilliance in dispatching the high flying Wesmen.
The Wesmen, on the other hand, experimented with their line-up. They rested their starting setter, Mark Gradt, and moved players around. Wesmen head coach Larry McKay is about as unflappable as they come and he was unconcerned with the loss.
"We just made unforced errors and we made three or four of them in a row," said McKay. "Calgary really thrived on that. When we don't make those errors, we will be fine."
The Dinos are a good side-out team and when they get a four-point lead, they rarely surrender it. Still, Dino coach Greg Ryan wants to see his team play to their potential more often.
"They could elevate their play individually and as a group," he said. "If you elevate a little bit as an individual, then the sum total of it is huge. It is exponential. If they could do that, we would be amazing."
The matches over the weekend demonstrated the difference between Canada West volleyball and the volleyball played in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. The quality of volleyball is about the same, but the number of teams who are competitive is different. The Wesmen have the universities of Manitoba and Regina to contend with and no one can remember Regina ever contending for the championship. Unlike the Dinos, the Wesmen can afford to tinker with their lineup and experiment this late in the season. The Wesmen know they will be in the conference championship with a berth at the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union championships at stake. The Dinos have to fight to get into the play-offs and play high-level volleyball to hope to have a chance to host the conference championships.
"We know that the matches we play against Manitoba coming up are the really critical ones," said McKay. "We have to be better to beat Manitoba and we have to get better in certain areas. The ranking isn't a critical thing to us; it was something I was willing to sacrifice for improvement."
"They have the luxury of beating one team (Regina) to get into the play-offs," said Ryan. "Ultimately, I think that Saskatchewan should move into GPAC and that would make the conferences more equal. Because right now, GPAC has the advantage."
The defending national champions, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies are the Dinos' opponent this weekend at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium. The Huskies lead the conference with an 11-5 record while the Dinos are tied for second at 10-6, so the matches this weekend are critical.
"We just have to be better all around because we have the capacity to be better. Saskatchewan is the steadiest team in the conference right now," said Ryan. "We lost 4-1 to them and beat them 5-0 in our previous series so it is hard to say what will happen."
The Dinos' schedule gets easier after this weekend and the lineup that Ryan has is capable of blowing the doors off anyone in Canada West. Setter Jeremy Wilcox has the confidence to open up the offense because the serve receive is better with the addition of Graham Gent. The main offensive weapons, Bill Byma, Warren Henschel and Denis Zhukov are hitting well. The middleblockers, David Sol, Wes Montgomery and John Walsh are blocking effectively and chipping in on offense The Dinos are still plagued by attention lapses, but those are decreasing.
Maybe at last, the Dinos can be considered mighty.