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The Cougar men’s volleyball team hopes the playoffs will be its next destination

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

During the past four seasons, the University of Regina men’s volleyball team topped out at just two wins during regular-season competition, but in 2011-12 it has already doubled that.

Although many of the games in past years were close, with Regina often going the distance only to lose by a narrow margin in the fifth set, the Cougars were never satisfied with the look of their win column. But this year, it’s looking better and better.

For head coach Greg Barthel, who has seen the team’s trials and triumphs since May 2007, it feels good to get a few more wins under his belt.

“[We have] the most wins so far, but we have a ways to go yet,” he said.

While many factors could be attributed to the recent success on the court, Barthel is quick to point out that the team’s veterans and rookies are all doing their part to help out the team.

“I think it is just some experience: the fifth-year guys are performing well,” Barthel said. “The guys like Jamie Wilkins, Drew Smith, Joel Colter, and Brody Waddell are doing well, and additions like Andrew Nelson and Jaques and Andre Borgeaud are proving to do well and are helping a lot to.

“The guys are playing well together, which is very good. I think it is just the process of guys working hard and playing well together. We are getting timely kills when we need it, which is good too.”

In past years, it was reasonable for fans to put pressure on the team, as everyone could see that the team was capable of achieving much more than its record was letting on. While it’s possible the Cougars may feel less pressure now that they’re winning, or more pressure to continue winning and secure a playoff spot, Barthel isn’t so sure either is the case.

“I don’t know if pressure is the right word, but I think the guys realize that the opportunity is out there for us to qualify for playoffs,” Barthel said. “But we also have a lot of work to do, we have some tough teams to play against yet, and teams that are also in the mix for a playoff spot as well with us.”

Barthel may be a little bit hesitant to jump for joy and celebrate a playoff berth, as the Cougars have eight games still to play in the regular season, six of which are against the top five teams in the conference.

Although all of the players on the roster seem to be in much better spirits as a result of the record, Barthel admitted the victories may taste just a little bit sweeter to the fifth-year players. 

“I think [it means more to the fifth years], but I think it is a good mix too,” Barthel said. “It means a lot to those guys – it’s a benefit to their hard work – but I think the new guys have brought in a refreshing outlook, maybe, which has kind of rubbed off on the older guys and that has allowed them to be pretty refreshed in how they are approaching the game.”

While Regina had quite a successful first half, fans may remember the last time Regina was in game action back in the week of Dec. 2, when the team was swept by the Winnipeg Wesmen. Although the night proved to be record setting for Andrew Nelson, who pushed his kills season total to 161, thus breaking Remington-Lenton Young’s U of R single-season rookie record of 158 set back in 2005-06, the Cougars have had over a month to think about the loss.

With the extended break between games, Barthel believes the team is hungry to get back onto the court.

“[The break] was good,” he said. “Maybe [I wished it was] a little shorter, but I think we had such a busy schedule where we played nine out of 10 weekends in the fall, so I think we needed the break.

“Guys were getting pretty broken down by the end and we had some unfortunate injuries the last couple of weekends, too, so we needed time to heal and to get ready to go for the second half.”

A successful season could mean a few things for the men’s volleyball team. While  securing a playoff spot would attract more fans and possibly help to put U of R men’s volleyball on the map, a winning record could also stir up more interest among high school recruits.

“That’s what you like – I think success breeds more interest for sure,” Barthel said. “We still want to get the top athletes and the bigger kids to play the sport more. I don’t know if we are quite successful in the local area, but there are some kids out there that are interested. I’m not sure if they are showing more interest, if it’s more or less, but I think it is definitely attractive for some college transfers and things like that in terms of success.”

The men’s volleyball team will finally be back on the court this weekend when the Manitoba Bisons visit the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport. The Bisons are currently ranked second in Canada West and fifth in the CIS with a 9-1 record.

Both teams will be looking to snap their losing skids, as the first loss of Manitoba’s season happened in their last game of 2011 against the Alberta Golden Bears (8-2). The Cougars are also riding a three-game loosing streak that they hope won’t be pushed to four.

Game time is slated for 8 p.m. on Friday and 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

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