MOMENTS after a 3-1 loss to College of the Rockies last Saturday night, new Capilano University men's volleyball coach Nathan Bennett was feeling a slow burn.
He'd just watched his team pull ahead 9-1 in the fourth set before falling completely to pieces, giving up a 20-6 run and eventually losing the set and the match.
Still thinking more like an ultra-intense player and less like a calm and collected coach, Bennett had seethed on the sidelines, wishing one of his players would step up and show some of the same fire.
It's entirely understandable - less than a year ago Bennett was an elite player, bound for the Olympic Games as a member of the host Great Britain team. But in February Bennett, a dual Canadian-British citizen who grew up in Alberta, blew out his knee. Instead of going to London he headed to North Vancouver to start a new career. Capilano is his first high-level head-coaching gig.
"It's been a little bit of a difficult transition for me because I look at the game as a player still," he said as he decompressed after the loss. Bennett, however, knows what he needs to do to make the switch from on-court firebrand to sideline general.
"I just need to be a little bit calmer," he said with a laugh. "As a player I was an intense guy. I'm just hoping - I'm trying to get our team to have a little bit of that intensity, we're too soft, too weak, we need to fire up the level a little bit and get some intensity going."
COTR's comeback was impressive, said Bennett, but his team needed to have a response.
"We just need to work on being a little more consistent and see who's going to step up and side out when the time comes," he said. "At the moment that's the story of our team, we're very inconsistent. The volleyball level at the
college level isn't the highest so there's going to be a lot of runs and points for each team and it just depends on whose run is going to be bigger. . . . I think our team has a little bit of work to do mentally. I think physically we're fine but mentally, that's the only spot where we're a little bit weak right now."
Bennett's message apparently got through - on Sunday it was the Blues who were doing all the damage in their second match against a tired COTR squad playing their fourth match in four nights. Capilano rolled to a 30 win to move to 1-3 on the season. They'll host University of the Fraser Valley for a pair of matches this weekend hoping to move back to .500 for the year.
The coach may be a rookie but the Blues actually have a solid core of returning players led by left-side hitter Dan Caverly, setter Ben Ricketts and middle Spencer Kyte, all in their fourth years. The Blues lost Matias Brizuela, a second team all-star last season who led the team in total offence, but added new firepower in right-side hitter Garret LaValley, a Calgary native who spent two years playing at the University of British Columbia. LaValley sat atop the league leaderboard in kills by a sizeable margin following the first week of play.
Team struggles, however, can be expected given the turnover in the program - this is the fifth straight year that the Blues have started a season with a different head coach than the one who finished the previous campaign. With new players and old veterans getting used to yet another new coaching crew - former pro Drew Venables also joined the staff this year as an assistant - it may take until the new year for the team to really find its stride, said Bennett.
"They've had four different coaches in the last five years," he said. "When new ideas keep coming at them they keep needing to change the culture and change the culture. And that's what we're doing now. We're hoping we're going to build a program with a solid culture but for the first month and a half everything is new for them and everything is changing so it's difficult."
The good news for the Blues is that they have time to sort it all out. This season the Pacwest league has seven teams and all but one of them will make it to the provincial playoff tournament. All the Blues have to do is not finish last, said Bennett, and then it's a whole new game.
"The league is really funny because it's basically just practice for one weekend of provincials," he said. "There are seven teams in the league, we have to beat one team and then we go to provincials and whoever is best on that day is going to win. Who knows? I'm not so overly concerned about the league itself but I just want to make sure our team improves match by match. If we keep improving until provincials then I think we'll be all right."
With all the upheaval happening at the start of the season for the Blues, Bennett said he expects the team to be a much different, much better squad when the playoffs finally roll around in February.
"Whether we're sixth or first or third (in the regular season), I'm happy. If we just beat one team by one point, it doesn't matter - as long as we make provincials then may the best team win. One match, anybody can win one match."
He's starting to sound more like a coach already.
. . .
The Blues host UFV for a pair of matches this Friday and Saturday. The action begins at 6 p.m. both nights with the women up first followed by the men.