The winds of change are sweeping through the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades volleyball program, and an arrival from the prairies is the first sign of the new era at the school.
Bennett, who helped lead the University of the Saskatchewan Huskies to a 15-10 record in Canada West men’s volleyball action last year, will guide the ship for the program in its final Pacwest journey and then steer the ship as it enters Canada West play for 2020-21.
UFV volleyball was approved to join Canada West play back in May, ending a span of 17 seasons in Pacwest competition. In conjunction with that move, the Cascades volleyball coaching position is now a full-time position as opposed to a part-time one in years past.
Previous coach Kyle Donen and the program parted ways back in March. The 2018-19 season was a challenging one for the men’s team, as they finished with a record of 2-22 and missed the Pacwest playoffs.
Bennett arrives to the program with significant volleyball coaching experience at both the Pacwest and Canada West levels. He served as an assistant coach at Thompson Rivers University from 2014-18, and was also coached the Capilano University Blues from 2012 to 2014, earning coach of the years honours in 2013. The team also won the Pacwest title that year.
He said he’s thrilled to take on the opportunity with UFV and be closer to family and friends in B.C., but said he understands it will be a unique transition.
“Canada West is the beat league in the country but I’m ready for the challenge,” he said. “Compared to the Pacwest, the physicality is much higher, you have bigger and stronger athletes and just more polished players.”
He said the final year in the Pacwest will give him the chance to see what he has, and build for the debut at the Canada West level.
“We will be doing a lot of evaluating this year,” he said. “Both of our players and our systems. I don’t want to take anything away from the players we have now – they will have the first opportunity to move with us to Canada West. I also want to look at some older CCAA athletes that may want a shot in Canada West for a year or two. From there, we will begin recruiting high-end talent and I know Abbotsford as a community as a lot to offer in that regard.”
Bennett said he’s familiarizing himself with the roster he has right now, but said there are some basic qualities and a playing style he wants his team to use.
“The word relentless is going to come into play,” he said. “I want players with a never give up attitude and fight till the end of the day. It doesn’t matter what the score is, people that will do whatever it takes for the team. But I’m just excited to get in there and see what kind of team we have.”
He said he’s aware of the competition in Canada West, with strong programs nearby like Trinity Western University and UBC.
“There is a lot of competition for volleyball talent and we have to show players the good things we have here to entice them to come,” he said. “But we’re not just looking for the best player or athlete – they have to fit in with our culture and chemistry. They have to also be good students in the classroom and good people in the community.”
The Cascades will begin their final Pacwest season in October, and Bennett officially ends his time with the Huskies on Aug. 1.
“My wife and I are really excited for the challenge,” he said. “It’s a bit of a strange situation to come in for one year in the Pacwest, but UFV is a proud volleyball school and Abbotsford is a proud volleyball community so we’re both looking forward to it all.”
For more on the program, visit gocascades.ca.