The University of Calgary men's volleyball Dinosaurs have chosen a difficult way to get themselves in game shape this year. Play until the other team quits.
For the second week in a row, the Dinos played a match which took over three hours to complete. The Big Red Machine rolled into Vancouver to play the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds over the weekend and emerged with their number one ranking intact, with two five-set victories over the T-Birds.
All kidding about the Dinos' fitness aside, their Head Coach Greg Ryan could probably do without the late nights. He knows his team has to learn to put other teams away when they have the chance.
"We had them down two games to one both nights and came out flat in the fourth. We have to get better at that," said Ryan.
One thing the Dinos have improved since last season is to present a more balanced attack. Since Calgary won the national championship in 1993, they have started a rookie at a key position every year. This year they are a veteran team with experience at each position and have played together for roughly 18 months.
"Our players have grown into their roles. It is not that rookies are bad, it is just that they are rookies," explained Ryan.
The balance comes from the fact that the Dinos have four players who can hit with authority. Mark Ellingson and Warren Henshall both pass well and can hit from power. Bill Byma, a reborn right side hitter and Adrian Wouts, with a rebuilt shoulder, have great timing with setter Jeremy Wilcox. That is enough firepower to win the Dinos a few matches. Byma delivered 50 kills for the weekend and Henshall contributed 45.
But in facing UBC, you face the best serving team in Canada. Calgary faced four great spike servers and gave up 11 aces on Friday and eight on Saturday. The serves the Dinos passers faced were so tough, Wilcox was often left with only one place to set the ball. So Ryan sent his team out to play side-out volleyball and to win the match by whatever means necessary.
But the Dinos did win, making the adjustment of playing at sea level and playing on the West Coast.
"We have to take environmental factors into account. Playing at altitude is much different than playing at sea level.
"There is much more spin on the ball at sea level. It is all physics," said Ryan.
Here is some math for you: Currently, the Dinos are ranked number one. Any team that comes to play at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium has to climb 1,000 metres to play them. How fit will that team be when they get here? Can they play until the cows come home? These are just two questions that will need to be answered before the Dinos lose again at home.