LANGLEY — First, just days into the COVID lockdown back in March of 2020, they were denied the chance to defend their U SPORTS men’s national volleyball championship status.
Then, of course, they were a part of a mass cancellation which wiped out their entire 2021 season.
With all of that in mind, it pretty to easy to understand the mindset that the Trinity Western Spartans have carried into its 2022 campaign, one in which its ultimate goal is to put a new time stamp on what is already one of longest title reigns in Canadian university men’s sports history.
“Our goal coming into this season was to schedule anyone, anytime, anywhere,” Spartans’ longtime head coach Ben Josephson chuckled Wednesday of what has thus far been as epic a schedule of matches as he could have ever imagined, and one which has his team ready to return to the Canada West Conference’s gold trail this Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) against the arch foe UBC Thunderbirds in a clash of unbeaten 2-0 dynamos at the Langley Events Centre. “That was kind our mantra.”
Through both its status as defending U SPORTS champions and its reputation stateside as a Canadian team that consistently beats its U.S. counterparts (TWU is 28-21 vs. NCAA Div. 1 programs), the Spartans have, since the start of September, gone a combined 21-4, despite the fact that they have only played two Canada West matches.
“When we asked ‘What is our strategy coming out of COVID?’, what we believe is that you learn the game by playing the game,” said Josephson. “We can coach our tails off, but at the end of the day, athletes have to get into matches against opponents that are uncomfortable, that bring pressure points, and that make you execute and learn.”
As he looked at the fruits of two years of recruiting, however, he saw not only an older core that needed reps, but high school graduates who had yet to taste the feel of the best that the North American university game had to offer.
“Our goal was to get close to 30 matches in first semester, but we didn’t see how it was possible until the Dominican thing came up up,” Josephson began. And then it was ‘OK, here’s a free seven matches.’”
Two weeks before they were set to begin training camp for the Canada West season, Trinity Western was asked by Volleyball Canada to represent their country at the Pan American Cup in the Dominican Republic, and with a bare-bones 12-man squad, the Spartans went 5-2, splitting with Mexico and losing in the five-sets to the U.S.
Factor in another seven matches on its just-completed trip to the Los Angeles area, at which it went 5-2 against NCAA Div. 1 competition, including beating UCLA and splitting with Long Beach State, a further nine exhibition matches (9-0) against conference foes, and six more scrimmage situations against other schools, and the Spartans have already met their goal with 31 matches heading into their double-header against the Thunderbirds.
And make no mistake about it, to Josephson and Co., the team Trinity Western will oppose this weekend, the one wearing the blue-and-gold, provides a competition zenith amidst the myriad matches they have played, all to arrive here at the last weekend in November.
“To us, the L.A. trip was to prepare for this weekend because we looked at UBC as the kind of peak to this whole semester,” said Josephson, whose team this season has been led a veteran core comprising the likes of B.C. products Brodie Hofer (6-6 OH, Langley Christian, 3rd), Jordan Schnitzer (6-6 M, Surrey-Pacific Academy, 4th) and Colton Loewen (5-11 L, Abbotsford-MEI, 4th); the trio of Calgary-Dr. E.P. Scarlett alums in Mathias Elser (6-6 setter/OH, 2nd), Jackson Howe (6-5 M, 4th) and Jesse Elser (6-8 OH, 3rd), and setter Derek Epp (6-8 OH, Saskatoon-Marion Graham, 4th).
“This is when we need our most important performance, and we figured we had to get in as many matches as we could before we face these guys because they are by far the best team we will play in a meaningful match this season,” added Josephson of the ‘Birds.
TWU will return the visit Jan. 28 and 29 at UBC’s War Memorial Gym. But before that, Trinity Western will face UBC again as the hosts of The Volleyball Showcase from Dec. 28-31 at the Langley Events Centre.
The Alberta Golden Bears and Laval Rouge et Or will also be a part of the four-team field.
Also this weekend, the U Sports’ No. 2-ranked Trinity Western women’s team (2-0) plays host to UBC (1-1) on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.) at the LEC.
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