BOTH the men's and women's volleyball teams at Capilano University will have new coaches next season and the two men stepping into the head coaching roles come from very different circumstances and are entering very different situations.
On the men's side the Blues have been in constant flux ever since former coach James Sneddon stepped down after the 2007-08 season. They've had a new coach on the bench every year since, with Paul Tudor filling the role of interim coach twice and Marcelo Paz and Scott Weninger each stopping by for one-anddone seasons.
Next to step onto the carousel is Nathan Bennett, a first-time coach with a recent past every bit as tumultuous as the team's. Bennett, a native of Athabasca, Alta., was a star player for the University of Alberta in the late 1990s and went on to a pro career in Europe. A dual Canadian-British citizen, he worked his way onto the British national team and was set to play with the home team in the 2012 London Olympics when disaster struck - a ruptured patella tendon suffered in February, just five months before the games were to start.
"Terrible timing, really," Bennett told the North Shore News in a recent phone interview as he prepared to make the move from Alberta to British Columbia. Looking at the positive side, the 33-year old said his intention was always to get into coaching once his playing career was over and this has just sped up the process and landed him in a good situation.
"It's been a blessing in disguise - if that didn't happen then I wouldn't be in the position I am now," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me and I'm looking forward to getting the season going already. It's going to be a natural step from playing as long as I have to coaching. It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time."
He'll be stepping into a tough situation. Not only is he charged with stopping the parade of new coaches, but also doing so while facing down what is likely the biggest obstacle in the program's path - the lack of a senior boys high school league on the North Shore.
"I still can't believe it," Bennett said with a laugh. "I obviously think volleyball is the best game in the world so I don't see a reason why it shouldn't be a program in the high schools there. It is everywhere else."
To help address the problem Capilano University is teaming up with Volleyball Canada to start a Centre of Excellence on the North Shore with Bennett as the head coach. The details are still being worked out but when it's up and running it should be a boon for volleyball on the North Shore and beyond, said Bennett.
"It's really a great initiative, something I didn't even know we had in Canada until I applied for the Capilano job. It's something that Europe's been doing forever and it makes sense," he said. "It'll probably take about six to 10 years before we see the results of it but it is going to be there."
Bennett has his work cut out for him with both the Capilano job and the Centre of Excellence, but that's just the way he wants it.
"On the North Shore there's a lot of opportunities to grow the sport of volleyball and that's something that I'm pretty passionate about," he said. "It is a challenge and I'm always ready for challenges. So bring it on."
The Capilano women's volleyball program is also changing coaches but under much different circumstances. Wayne Desjardins stepped down this spring after 13 highly successful seasons, leaving a steady ship for new coach Cal Wohlford to join.
Wohlford is a familiar face on the North Shore with 20-years under his belt as a coach with North Vancouver's BCO Volleyball Club as well as stints with high school teams at Handsworth and Seycove. He spent eight years as an assistant coach in the UBC and SFU programs and worked from 2008 to 2010 as head coach of the CIS women's team at Thompson Rivers University.
Wohlford said it's nice to step into a program with such a strong and stable tradition.
"Wayne Desjardins was one of the coaches when I came over to BCO so he was definitely a mentor and I learned from him. I have a great opportunity to continue the legacy that he developed there," said Wohlford. "I don't know if I'm going to hang in as long as he did, 13 years, but it's awesome. He's developed such a great program."
With 10 years of CIS experience on his resumÃ©, Wohlford said he is hoping to push the Blues to rival those big university clubs, adding that down the road Capilano may end up competing against the likes of UBC or SFU if the Blues make the move to CIS.
"You have to develop yourself to be ready to make that jump," he said. "I think that's going to be a key thing for us to get success, to start developing ourselves like a CIS program even though we're in the Pacwest. So getting into a very good physical fitness program, getting into individual training, doing video and stuff like you would at the higher level."
Wohlford, originally from Edmonton, is the owner of clothing company Nothing But Volleyball. It's a slogan that fits well with his coaching philosophy, with a slight tweak to accommodate the other side of the student-athlete equation.
"I'm very passionate, I'm very into the game - in that regards I think Wayne and I are quite similar," he said. "I think the No. 1 philosophy for me is that the program is about the athletes and what the athletes can get out of volleyball for their education. . . . I also believe that volleyball is a tool for them to develop as mature adults. I truly believe that sports is one of the things that develops people to have success and also to be able to deal with losses and when you stumble on things to be able to get yourself back up and go again. I think it's a lifelong tool."
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