The University of Calgary men's volleyball team begins the second half of the Canada West schedule after a valuable six day trip to southern California.
Valuable for a number of reasons according to Dinos Head Coach Greg Ryan. And Ryan, who takes every aspect of volleyball into consideration when preparing his teams to win, found a few more. And most of what was valuable about the trip had little to do with X's and O's and more to do with having his team ready to face any obstacle on the road to the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union championships.
"We wanted to play a different style of volleyball and make our players adjust to that style," said Ryan as he prepared for the upcoming series against the University of Manitoba Bisons. "Canada West teams all play pretty much the same style. It is pretty incestuous."
The Dinos played matches against University of California at Northridge, Long Beach State and uc Santa Barbara, coming home with a 1-2 record.
They played in new volleyball facilities, built after the Northridge earthquake and Ryan wanted the team to get used to playing in strange places. At the Northridge gym, the walls are almost entirely white, meaning that passing is quite difficult.
"We wanted to focus on preparing in an odd environment. At Long Beach, the gym was a pyramid with a roof about four times higher than the Jack Simpson Gym," said Ryan.
Looking to raise the roof in a different way, the Dinos are hoping to win all of their six remaining matches in Canada West and host a play-off game.
Currently, the Dinos are chasing their western rivals at the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan.
"No visiting team has won a series playing on the road, but that doesn't mean that won't change," said Ryan.
And the perennial power Bisons are the first test for the U of C. They are once again a force to be reckoned with since the addition of power hitter Dan Lewis. The Bisons last won the ciau title with Lewis as an explosive rookie and his high-altitude game will give Dino blockers plenty to think about.
"It is good that he is back," said Ryan. "You always want to play against the best players. A CIAU victory would be kind of hollow if you didn't play against the best."
Both teams are veteran-laden squads and even though this is a match-up between the fourth- ranked Dinos and the fifth-ranked Bisons, it is also a match that will set the tone for the race to the ciau championship.
Does the road to the tournament go through California? It may have been more valuable than Ryan thinks.