Rudy Verhoeff

the no. 1 ranked trinity western aiming for first ever canada west regular season title
By Howard Tsumura - Vancouver Province - LINK to Story

LANGLEY — The carrot has been dangled in front of Canada’s best men’s university volleyball team.

Now, it’s up to the No. 1-ranked, defending CIS national champion Trinity Western Spartans to show just how hungry they really are.

By winning both of its matches tonight (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) against the No. 6-ranked, crosstown rival UBC Thunderbirds (10-8) at the Langley Events Centre on the final weekend of the Canada West regular season, the Spartans (17-1) will trigger a chain reaction which would secure itself a spot in the CIS national tournament in March.

That’s because a sweep would not only clinch the Spartans’ first-ever regular season conference championship, but give it an opening-round playoff bye and the right to host the Canada West Final Four, an event which sends all four of its combatants to the national tournament.

Spartans’ fifth-year standout and reigning CIS championship MVP Rudy Verhoeff is well aware of what’s at stake, but to him there is an even more emotional component attached to the weekend.

“For me, Ben (Ball) and Marc (Howatson), it’s our last time playing at the LEC in a regular season game in front of our families and friends,” Verhoeff says of his fellow fifth-year teammates in anticipation of seniors night ceremonies. “All of the emotions and memories we have gone through to get to this moment in our careers will, I think, translate into how we play. Personally, I think directed and focussed emotion is very helpful.”

No one questions the fact that Verhoeff, who helped TWU to a 3-0 win over Brandon last March in a storybook CIS final staged on the Spartans’ home floor, is the team’s emotional leader and that includes head coach Ben Josephson, whose first season at the helm of the program in 2007-08 was also the beginning for Verhoeff, Ball and Howatson.

“Rudy is probably the soul of our team,” Josephson explained Tuesday following practice. “He is our energy guy, everywhere he goes he is the leader.”

A Spartans co-captain for three seasons, he has also served two-year stints as captain with the Canadian junior team, and the senior ‘B’ national team. And besides all of that, he’s playing his third position since last season.

“He has gone from playing middle with the national team, to last season being named (CIS) MVP at left side, to this season maybe the Canada West Player of the Year as a right side,” Josephson explains. “We just plunk him in where we need him, and he is the best player in the country wherever we put him.”

So call him versatile, but also call him battle tested.

In the time since TWU lost in the 2010 CIS national final to Calgary, through winning it all last season, to this season’s near-perfect record, an acute understanding of the championship process is now clear to Verhoeff and the rest of the team’s veteran core.

“Putting myself back into that place, right before the national final that we lost,” Verhoeff says, “we had no idea what we were getting in to. We didn’t know what type of intensity and focus and communication it was going to take in order to win that match. But that is something we have learned the last two years. We now know what it takes, and that is intentional work. And because we have that feeling, we know we can build off that.”

Yet of course the crosstown rivalry with UBC brings its own set of concerns.

“They have a young, talented group,” Josephson says of UBC. “This is the start of a good run for their group. But with rivalries, you throw records out the window. It all evens out and it becomes a dog fight.”

The reigning, four-time CIS champion and No. 1-ranked UBC women’s team (17-1) is also in Langley on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.), facing the No. 5 TWU women (12-6). UBC has already wrapped up the conference title and the right to host the Canada West Final Four while the Spartans are battling to hold off Calgary (10-8) for fourth in the conference and the right to host an opening round playoff series.

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