By Chris Stanford
When the UBCO Heat open play in the eight-team McDonald’s International men’s volleyball tournament Jan. 2 against Pepperdine (CA.) University, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
Unbeaten in eight games against B.C. College’s Athletic Association teams so far this season, the Heat are ranked number three nationally but they are eager to see how they stack up against teams like Pepperdine and the others who play in the bigger Canadian Interuniversity Sport (C.I.S.) grouping.
“The UBCO Heat we are extremely fortunate to be invited to the tournament,” said men’s Heat head coach Greg Poitras. “These matches give us much needed competition before the remaining half of the season gets underway.
“Playing CIS teams allows our athletes to experience the next level and play against former teammates that have had success in their respective programs. We try to schedule C.I.S. exhibition every season in order prepare to play at a high level in our own league. Ultimately this will give us an opportunity have a taste of the competition that we hope to be competing against in 2011-2012 in the C.I.S.”
The tournament, hosted by C.I.S. school Thompson Rivers University and played at the neighbouring Tournament Capital Centre in Kamloops for Jan. 2-4 is effectively a dry run for the national championships in March 2010 and features UBCO along with some of the best teams in the country.
“We are going to see most of the top teams in the nation,” says WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly on the TRU Wolfpack website.
The teams involved in this year’s tournament include two of the top teams in the country including from the C.I.S. the Calgary Dinos (Calgary, Canada West), ranked number two in the country and third-ranked McMaster (Hamilton, ON., OUA).
“We also have the top ranked team in Atlantic Canada right now in Dalhousie (numer five nationally),” says Hennelly. “Most of these teams are coming here with an eye to looking at the facility before the Nationals.”
Other teams involved in the McDonalds International are the number six-ranked Trinity Western Spartans (Langley, Canada West conference), the University of Toronto Blues (OUA), and the Pepperdine University Wave.
UBCO will open play against the Wave on Saturday, a program that Poitras has some familiarity with. “Any chance you get to compete against an NCAA powerhouse is an invaluable opportunity,” he said. “I had a chance to compete against the Wave on the women’s side while coaching at Gonzaga University. I have a lot of respect for the Wave program and I would expect that we’ll be in rough waters in our first match of the tournament and our first competition after a really long seven week break.”
Poitras will also face at least one of his former players in the person of the TRU Wolfpack’s Joel Caschetto of White Rock, the six-foot, six-inch middle, who made the move their after playing at UBCO last season.
Another local athlete, Killian Newman of Kelowna will be playing for the U of T Blues.
With a more balanced team this season though, the Heat coach still feels that they are as solid as ever going into the McDonald’s event.
“We have a much more balanced team this year,” he said. “Former Rookie-of-the-Year and All-Star Nate Speijer is leading the league in kills and is also in the top 10 in aces. He has proven to be one of the most dominant hitters in our league and has shown a high level of consistency as well.
“Mark Broome is leading the league in blocks which is an impressive feat as he is playing a new position this season due to the injury of Trevor Briggs. Our squad is lead by former BCCAA All-Star Preston Tucker who is arguably one of the countries best college setters.”
Sunday sees the consolation and championship semi-finals taking place, while the 7th vs 8th match, 5th vs 6th, the bronze medal match and the championship final are all set for Monday.