Mullet power: TWU setter Ball named national player of year
Ben Ball capped a record-breaking season by winning the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men's volleyball national player of the year award on Thursday.
The 22-year-old setter from Abbotsford was nothing short of spectacular for the Trinity Western Spartans – he established a Canada West record with 11.54 assists per set, while leading TWU to a 19-1 regular season record and a conference title. He'll close his five-year university career in second place on the Canada West all-time list with 2,742 assists.
But first, there's the small matter of a national tournament to attend to. Ball and his Spartans are currently in Kingston, Ont., for the CIS championships at Queen's University, which opens Friday. They're seeded No. 1, and chasing their second straight national crown.
"It feels great, it's good to be recognized," Ball said, reflecting on adding the CIS's top individual award to the Canada West MVP he won last week. "But that wasn't really one of my goals going into the season. It was to win nationals, obviously, and this award will feel a lot better if we do win. It's just a bonus right now."
In a press release hailing Ball's CIS award, Spartans head coach Ben Josephson directed some heady praise his way.
“Ben is the engine that runs our team,” Josephson said. “His unassuming attitude on the court and ability to find the fun in any situation make him the perfect setter for our team. His genius with the ball and athletic ability make him the most memorable setter in our program’s history."
Ball deflected those superlatives, directing the credit for his monster season to his teammates and coaches.
"It's a tribute to our program's development," the Mennonite Educational Institute grad said. "Our program has been getting better every single year, and that means players are, as well. In five years, whoever's the (new) setter will be the most memorable setter."
Ball has put together his stellar season while maintaining a distinct sense of personal style. He's wearing his hair in a mullet – the peculiar business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back hairdo that was popular in the '80's.
Ball explained that after his squad lost to Calgary in the CIS final in 2010, he and his teammates grew their hair out during the following season as a team-building exercise. He ended up fashioning his mane into a mullet.
After the Spartans beat the Brandon Bobcats in the 2011 CIS title game, most of the TWU players chopped their shaggy locks. But Ball kept his mullet, hoping to keep the championship vibe alive.
"We won nationals, so I had to keep it," he reasoned with a chuckle. "I'd say it's pretty aerodynamic."
It's been a big couple of weeks for the Ball family, which is loaded with volleyball talent. Ben's younger siblings Rick and Sadie play for the Columbia Bible College Bearcats volleyball squads, and last week Sadie was named the PacWest conference rookie of the year. Next week, Rick's team hosts the Canadian Colleges Athletics Association (CCAA) national championship tournament.
"I'm really proud of them," Ben said. "It's awesome that Sadie's getting recognition at the college level – she's been working really hard. And I'm looking forward, when we get back, to watching nationals at CBC next week and cheering my brother on."
• The Spartans swept all four CIS awards they were up for on Thursday. In addition to Ball's POY, Jarrod Offereins was libero of the year; Rudy Verhoeff won the Dale Iwanoczko Award for community involvement; and Josephson was coach of the year.
• Among local products, Ball isn't alone in garnering post-season recognition. His teammate Steve Marshall, a fellow MEI grad, was named a second team Canada West all-star. On the women's side, UBC setter Brina Derksen-Bergen, a Rick Hansen Secondary product, was also a second-team all-star.