Over the Christmas break, Columbia Bible College men’s volleyball coach Rocky Olfert had his vacation in Florida interrupted by a fateful phone call from Matt Kaminski.
Kaminski, a key contributor on the Bearcats’ 2011 national championship squad, had retired as a player last spring after graduating with a degree in intercultural studies. He was working part-time for Olfert in the CBC athletic department and also serving as a men’s volleyball assistant coach.
But when Olfert answered his phone in late December, he was stunned to hear Kaminski say he wanted to pull his court shoes out out mothballs and suit up for the Bearcats again.
“We did a bit of an informal ceremony in the locker room at the end of nationals last year where he took off his jersey for the last time and made it a big deal that he was officially done,” Olfert recalled on Wednesday. “It didn’t even cross my mind that he was considering coming back, because I saw him every day. He was on our coaching staff.
“He said he thought he could contribute in some way, bring some leadership and experience to the team.”
Kaminski’s request was music to Olfert’s ears. Last season, the 26-year-old right side was a first team all-star during the PacWest regular season, at the provincial tournament, and at nationals.
From Kaminski’s perspective, he felt he could fill a personnel need after solid veterans Tom Charbonneau and Seth Isaksen decided not to come back to CBC after the first semester. And with the Bearcats hosting the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) nationals next week (March 8-10), the chance to try for back-to-back titles was too good to pass up.
“I think there would have been regret if I hadn’t used that fifth year (of eligibility),” the Lloydminster native explained. “Hosting nationals was definitely a factor.”
Kaminski and the Bearcats captured some magic late last season en route to the national title. After finishing third in the BCCAA (now called the PacWest), they upset the Douglas Royals to punch their ticket to nationals.
At the national tourney in Sherbrooke, Que., the CBC men were seeded No. 6, but they upset the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in succession to claim the Abbotsford school’s first CCAA title.
“Last year, we just understood the opportunity we had,” Kaminski recalled. “We weren’t the favourites going in, and we knew we had nothing to lose. It was more about going out and controlling our side of the net, as well as just enjoying the opportunity and having a good time. It was just about trusting in your skills and in the guy next to you.
“We have some younger guys this year, but I think everybody understands the level of this tournament. We’ve known we’d have this opportunity all year, and we’re very focused.”
This year, the host Bearcats are once again seeded sixth. They open against the No. 3 Mount Royal Cougars of Calgary, the Alberta champs, in the quarter-finals next Thursday.
“This year I’d say the draw is a little more challenging,” Olfert said. “We’ve been in this position before as underdogs, and we’re just happy to be in the tournament. We’ll play whoever we have to play. You have to beat the best to win it all, anyway.”
The CCAA men’s nationals is the biggest sporting event the Bearcats have ever hosted. Olfert noted the organizing committee is managing a staff of nearly 100 volunteers, and he expects the atmosphere at Columbia Place to be electric.
For the Abbotsford products on the Bearcats’ roster, the opportunity to play for a national title in their hometown is an opportunity to be treasured.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Bearcats setter Jason Warkentin, one of four Mennonite Educational Institute grads on the team along with Connor Nickel, Rick Ball and Justin Wood. “Any team can get hot, and you have to win three games. We have confidence that on any given night, we can beat anybody.
“We’ve been looking forward to this all year.”
For a team-by-team preview, players to watch and a full schedule of CCAA nationals, click here.