ABBOTSFORD — For Amanda Matsui, the map of her own version of the road less travelled takes two years to navigate.
Two years to get to this Thursday, where with the kinds of credentials that make her a Rookie of the Year contender, she will strap a gigantic knee brace to her left leg and lead her No. 3-seed and host Fraser Valley Cascades into the opening round of the PacWest Volleyball Championships at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre. The three-day affair will crown the champions of the conference’s men’s and women’s divisions (full draw below).
Two years to provide a rearview mirror snap-shot of why she decided to give up on basketball, a sport in which she seemed naturally born to play, in favour of volleyball, where her many talents have been able to manifest themselves through a much-more workmanlike attitude and approach.
And finally, two years to the month from when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the Fraser Valley Triple A basketball championships while playing for her hometown Riverside Rapids of Port Coquitlam.
“Basketball was a game that I found I could read quite easily and was much more fluid at playing,” explains Matsui. “With volleyball, I had to work harder. But I loved practicing volleyball and I hated practicing basketball.”
And thus her knee brace, the one she continues to wear in this, her first season back on the court, seems more than a mute reminder that while she injured herself playing the sport that she was more natural at, she was ready to rehabilitate herself for the one she found more challenging.
A FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTURE
Ask UFV head volleyball coach Mike Gilray about Matsui’s two-pronged youth sports career and you’re convinced that by the time her eligibility expires, it will have provided so many spin-off benefits that her missed season due to injury will almost become a footnote.
“Amanda is one of those rare athletes that was still playing elite multi-sports in her senior year (of high school) and I am such a fan of that,” confirms Gilray.
“I think there is a certain level of balance and body strength that the all-round athlete tends to be able to take on more as they mature,” he adds. “They are coachable, and they have an understanding of what their body is doing because of it.”
In the case of Matsui, she spent her first university season rehabilitating with her new teammate Kara Williams, the former Hatzic Secondary grad who had played her freshman season at UFV before suffering a torn meniscus.
“If she wasn’t there with me, I don’t know if I could have done it,” says Matsui.
Considering that her last meaningful season of play on the court before this season came in the fall of 2015 with her Riverside Rapids high school team, Matsui’s debut this season under Gilray has been somewhat astounding.
Matsui is one of just three players in the PacWest to sit in the Top 10 in aces (0.66/set, first), kills (3.15/set, fourth), total offence (3.99 points/set, third) and digs (2.86/set, 10th). On top of all that, she boasts a hitting percentage of 22.
“When you get to see everyday what Amanda does, it’s easy to forget about all those numbers,” says Gilray. “This is her first year playing in this league and the one thing that stands out is that her kill efficiency is five per cent better that almost every outside hitter in the (PacWest).
“I was definitely not sure what we would get after one year away,” he added. “I didn’t think she would come back this quickly. The one thing I knew was that she would always continue to put in the work and that if she did she would continue to be an elite-level player. I think she is the Rookie of the Year in this league.”
A JOURNEY ALL HER OWN
Simon Fraser would have loved to have had the 6-foot-1, athletic, three-point shooting Matsui a part of thier NCAA Div. 2 basketball program, and ditto for the Fraser Valley and its U Sports basketball team.
“She was a very good player and if she had been interested in going down the basketball road, we would have had interest,” said Cascades head women’s basketball coach Al Tuchscherer. “I think it would have been a very good fit but she has been very successful playing volleyball.”
Paul Langford, her high school basketball coach at Riverside, in fact, calls Matsui easily one of the most naturally-gifted athletes he has ever coached.
“She played for me as well on the (B.C.) Under-15 team that I coached,” remembers Langford. “We went to play in a tournament in San Diego that summer, and with (former Riverside players) Shae (Sanchez), Ozi (Nwabuko) and Amanda, and we beat the No. 5-ranked (Quad-A) team in Washington.
“Amanda could have been a first-team (provincial) all-star in volleyball and basketball if she didn’t get hurt.”
In the end, Gilray says that the sum total of Matsui’s experiences has resulted in a renaissance for the player and strike of fortune for the program.
“I truly believe that she was guided with good feedback from all of her coaches,” he says of her youth sport career. “She lost her Grade 12 (volleyball) club season and with all she has gone through, we wanted to be the place that provided her with the opportunity to love her sport again. To be able to help give that to someone is the best part of our job. We are extremely blessed to have had her pick volleyball, choose us and show the commitment to train.”
There might have been an easier and more natural path leading her towards basketball, but Amanda Matsui never doubted the direction of her truest sports passion and the fact that to get there, she may have to take her road less travelled.
2017-18 PACWEST Men’s and Women’s Volleyball Championships
(All games at UFV’s Envision Financial Athletic Centre)
THURSDAY, FEB. 22 – QUARTER-FINALS
1 p.m. | WVB | No. 4 Capilano Blues (13-11) vs. No. 5 Columbia Bible College Bearcats (11-13)
3 p.m. | MVB | No. 3 Camosun Chargers (13-11) vs. No. 6 College of the Rockies Avalanche (5-19)
6 p.m. | WVB | No. 3 UFV Cascades (13-11) vs. No. 6 College of the Rockies Avalanche (7-17)
8 p.m. | MVB | No. 4 UFV Cascades (12-12) vs. No. 5 Douglas Royals (11-13)
FRIDAY, FEB. 23 – SEMIFINALS
1 p.m. | WVB | No. 2 Vancouver Island University Mariners (18-6) vs. UFV/COTR winner
3 p.m. | MVB | No. 2 Capilano Blues (19-5) vs. Camosun/COTR winner
6 p.m. | WVB | No. 1 Douglas Royals (21-3) vs. Capilano/CBC winner
8 p.m. | MVB | No. 1 Vancouver Island University Mariners (20-4) vs. UFV/Douglas winner
SATURDAY, FEB. 24 – MEDAL MATCHES
1 p.m. | WVB | Bronze medal match
3 p.m. | MVB | Bronze medal match
6 p.m. | WVB | Gold medal match
8 p.m. | MVB | Gold medal match
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