It’s been nearly seven months since the Columbia Bible College men’s volleyball team won the national championship, but it still feels a little bit surreal to head coach Rocky Olfert.
“I don’t think we’ll maybe realize what we’ve done until later in our lives, just what kind of feat that was,” Olfert marveled on Tuesday, as his team prepared to embark on the 2011-12 campaign.
Olfert’s lingering shock could be forgiven, in light of the fact the Bearcats’ run to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association title kind of materialized out of nowhere.
CBC’s Cinderella run began in the provincial semifinals, when they upset a Douglas College Royals squad which had beaten them in all three previous meetings during the regular season. The win gave the Bearcats a wild card berth to nationals.
Then at the national tourney in Sherbrooke, Que., the sixth-seeded CBC squad knocked off the top three teams in succession – No. 3 Sherbrooke, No. 2 Briercrest, and No. 1 UBC-Okanagan – to clinch the gold medal.
Along the way, the Bearcats became just the second B.C. team in the 32-year history of the CCAA men’s volleyball tourney to win the title – the event being traditionally dominated by teams from Alberta and Quebec.
This year, the Bearcats already know they’ll be playing at nationals – they’re hosting the event from March 8-10, and they’re determined to put up a spirited defence of their title at home.
“It definitely gives us confidence, knowing what we can do,” said sophomore left side Will Quiring, reflecting on last season’s accomplishments. “But at the same time, we don’t want to be looking back. We want to be looking forward. We have a long, long ways to go before nationals.”
Under different circumstances, players like Quiring and setter Jason Warkentin might not be suiting up for the Bearcats this fall.
Quiring, a Saskatoon, Sask. native, had several scholarship offers from Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) programs after earning MVP honours at nationals.
Warkentin, meanwhile, is in the intercultural studies program at CBC, and is supposed to be overseas on an eight-month missionary internship this year.
But for both players, the lure of defending the championship at home was too enticing to pass up.
“This is my hometown, and it’s our school,” explained Warkentin, a Mennonite Educational Institute grad. “I thought this is the right place to be this year. Seeing this gym packed, it’s going to be awesome.”
The Bearcats have to replace a pair of key veterans in right side Matt Kaminski and left side Emmanuel Denguessi, a former member of the Cameroon national team, but they boast a nice mix of veterans and rookies this season.
Quiring and Warkentin lead a group of returnees that also includes middles Danny Grant and Tom Charbonneau and libero Justin Wood. Connor Nickel, a 6’5″ middle out of MEI, headlines a deep recruiting class.
Overall, the roster is deeper, and that’s produced a healthy level of internal competition.
“I think we have the potential to be just as good,” Warkentin said. “Last year’s team showed that anything can happen if everything falls in the right place.”
• The PACWest volleyball regular season opens next weekend, and both local programs open on the road. The CBC men’s and women’s teams play a doubleheader at Capilano University on Friday and Saturday, while their counterparts from the University of the Fraser Valley are at Douglas College. For a full schedule, visit pacwestbc.ca.