Ben Ball

By Howard Tsumura - Vancouver Province - LINK to Story

LANGLEY — Ben Josephson was flipping through the channels recently when he stumbled on a show called ‘The Brady 6′, an ESPN production that documented how six quarterbacks could have been taken before the New England Patriots’ drafted their soon-to-be superstar signal caller Tom Brady in the sixth round 2000 NFL draft.

“What people don’t measure is all of the intangibles,” related Josephson, the head coach of the CIS national men’s volleyball champion Trinity Western Spartans, who couldn’t help but think about his so-called signal caller, senior setter Ben Ball, while watching that program. “Benny is very much that way, too. He gets overlooked a lot because what he is so good at, you can’t measure. You just have to appreciate it when he performs in competition.”

What a quarterback is to a football team and what a point guard is to a basketball team, a setter is to his volleyball team.

And the themes of the Brady 6 might be the best way to describe the undescribable elements that the fifth-year Abbotsford native Ball has brought to the No. 1-ranked, undefeated Spartans (10-0), who Friday (8 p.m.) open the second half of their Canada West season by hosting the arch-rival, No. 3-ranked Alberta Golden Bears (8-2) in the first of two on-campus matches at the school’s own band-box Enarson Gymnasium. The series continues on Saturday (7 p.m.).

On a team filled with powerful hitters like Rudy Verhoeff, Marc Howatson, Steve Marshall and Lucas Van Berkel, in a sport in which the finest points of appreciation often times occur in split-second fashion, it is so often times the contributions made by the aptly-surnamed Ball that lead to the big points and the big wins.

For Ball, honoured in 2007 as a member of The Province’s Head of the Class after leading the MEI Eagles to back-to-back B.C. Double A high school championships, a big part of his success has been his ability to deceive the opposition by assuming very unorthodox positioning on the court as he prepares to set the ball for his attacking teammates.

“It’s much like a great point guard in basketball,” offers Josephson. “It’s like how Steve Nash is able to make all kinds of great passes from different spots on the court, or when he goes around the back, or when he throws it no-look.

“So Benny, instead of getting square or facing the ball when he sets, he’ll often times set the ball off axis, maybe off his shoulder or over the back of his shoulder. That just makes it very difficult for the opponents to pick up where he’s setting from. The reason people don’t do it, is because it’s very inaccurate and difficult. But Ben is so talented, so athletic that he can have the accuracy.”

Yet when Ball first stepped onto the Langley campus in the fall of 2007, he had the wraps put on what amounts to volleyball’s version of basketball’s playground game.

“I had to master the basics first,” admits Ball. “But once I got comfortable with all of that, I was able to start playing around with some things. As long as my hands are big and square (to the ball), I discovered I could use the rest of my body to throw the opposition blockers off, to try and trick them into thinking that maybe I was going to do something that I wasn’t.”

Blessed with incredible athleticism and a super-high volleyball IQ, Ball has always also had a kind of calming presence, an ability to get into the moment on command.

When he showed up to get a portrait shot taken for his Head of the Class photo in 2007 at The Province, the photographer asked him if he could juggle, and for over 15 minutes straight Ball did just that with three volleyballs, never flinching despite the constant barrage of flashes and requests to vary his facial expressions.

When Josephson is told the juggling story, he laughs because it’s just another example of the balance and focus he has seen from his star player over the past five seasons.

“It’s his body control and his awareness,” continues Josephson. “He is so gifted in all the ways that make a great setter. He is the best setter I have had a chance to coach, and he does stuff that is beyond my ability to teach. He is teaching me stuff about the position.”

Yet Ball and the rest of the Spartans aren’t finished learning, even though they were national silver medallists in 2010 before winning the national title last season.

With their status as reigning champs come new challenges, ones Ball says he and his teammates have embraced.

“Last season, after we had lost in the (2010) final, we had a huge chip on our shoulders,” Ball remembers. “That made us crazy hungry. This year, being the defending champs, we have a different kind of pressure. But we have tried to approach it as a positive, kind of like we have earned the right to put this new pressure on ourselves. For us, it’s a new way to play.”

The Spartans expect its weekend matches against Alberta to have an electric atmosphere. Because its regular home floor at the Langley Events Centre is unavailable this weekend, TWU will host the Golden Bears on campus at tiny Enarson Gym, a place the men’s volleyball team last played at on Feb. 14 of 2009.

Last Updated: 2012-03-07
Author: Mark Janzen