The TRU WolfPack basketball and volleyball teams have reached the Canada West holiday break.
Here is reporter Marty Hastings’ look into the Wolves’ den ahead of the home stretch, which begins in the new year.
Not often does it make sense to call a team with a losing record a success story, but it does in this case.
The Pack lost two of their best players unexpectedly prior to the 2018-2019 campaign, with Yevgenia Nyukhalova, who is taking the year off to have a baby, and Mikalya Funk, academically ineligible, unable to play.
Head coach Chad Grimm was expecting to have an NCAA Division 1 transfer on the roster, but that fell through in the off-season.
Grimm told KTW the team lost about 85 per cent of its offence if including the departure of graduated outside hitter Rachel Windhorst.
The WolfPack went from a team with championship aspirations to one that may struggle to reach the playoffs, but they have made the most of adverse circumstance.
Thank goodness for 6-foot-3 outside hitter Olga Savenchuk, the first-year set executioner from Donetsk, Ukraine, who is fourth in the conference with 3.77 kills per set and leads the team with 177 points in 12 matches.
Without Savenchuk, the WolfPack would not be 5-7 and tied for seventh in league standings. The top eight teams will qualify for the post-season.
She is a key piece, but there are a few of those, including several who would have seen less of the floor if Funk and Nyukhalova were around.
Setter Abby Spratt leads the team with 303 assists, outside hitter Kendra Finch is second in WolfPack scoring with 131 points, Avery Pottle has improved at the middle position and Gabriela Podolski, Hali Drezet and Erin Mutch have made notable contributions.
Anastasiya Muzyka, a second-year setter from Poltava, Ukraine, was named to the Canada West all-rookie team last season. An off-season injury has hindered progress. She has 41 assists in 10 matches and will be looking to provide more in the second half.
Katie Ludvig, the team’s lone Kamloops product, has 51 digs, good for sixth on the squad in that category.
TRU scored its most important victory of the campaign to date last weekend, when it knocked off the No. 3-ranked team in the country, the Alberta Pandas (8-2), in Edmonton.
The WolfPack had never beaten the Pandas in 37 matches leading into last Saturday’s contest, which the visitors won 3-0.
Will the Pack make an extended post-season run in 2019? No.
Throw that on the bulletin board and use it for motivation.
What they should do is make the playoffs and earn valuable experience that will come in handy next season, when much-improved players may be joined by last season’s Canada West kills leader, Nyukhalova, as she hopes to return for 2019-2020.
That team could have championship potential.
Pat Hennelly’s charges seem the most likely of the WolfPack bunch to reach the Canada West podium this season.
They are in win-now mode, sitting at 7-3 and ranked ninth in the country with an experienced team and a beastly outside hitter in Tim Dobbert, a fifth-year business student from Aichelberg, Germany.
There are, however, similarities to the women’s volleyball team in the what-could-have-been category.
Josh Mullaney, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter from Calgary, accounted for 183.5 points in 2017-2018, but was lost for this season with a lower-body injury. He is red-shirting, along with Nyukhalova.
Setter Anton Napolitano, middles Sam Taylor Parks and Kyle Behiels and outside hitter Charlie Bringloe, along with Dobbert, comprise the WolfPack’s formidable core.
Tim Edge, settling back into the rotation after returning from a concussion, and dig machines Landon Currie and Isaac Smit promise to factor in down the stretch.
TRU suffered a pair of measuring-stick defeats to the Golden Bears (11-1) in Edmonton on the weekend, falling 3-0 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday to the nation’s No. 3-ranked team.
The WolfPack will have to learn how to beat the conference’s best teams on the road if they want to be playing volleyball at nationals in Laval in March.
Two home victories against the country’s fifth-ranked team, Mount Royal (9-3) of Calgary, would be catalysts in the Pack’s drive for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Those matches will be played at the TCC on Jan. 11 and Jan.12. First serve is slated for 6:45 p.m. both nights.
The Golden Bears, who gave the WolfPack men’s volleyball squad an acid test, also let TRU’s basketball men know they are not quite ready to hang with the big boys.
But that doesn’t mean the WolfPack can’t work themselves into the conversation by the end of the campaign.
Alberta (7-3) brought the nation’s sixth-ranked team to Kamloops last weekend and swept a pair of games against the Pack (4-6) at the TCC.
The second tilt should embolden the WolfPack, who held a lead in the fourth quarter before the Golden Bears pulled away to an 86-79 victory in the final few minutes.
Head coach Scott Clark, always an interesting quote, has a way of pushing teams to their zenith in time for the stretch run.
Derek Rhodes, Enrico Nuno, Joe Davis, Anton Bilous and Michael Rouault are the Pack’s five top scorers and each average more than 23 minutes per game, along with Tyus De Vries.
They share the wealth on offence and play strong defence. They work their tails off.
Davis, a Westsyde secondary graduate, is averaging 12.6 points per game, good for second on the team in that category, and is third in team rebounding, averaging 6.1 boards per contest. He is one of two players to have started all 10 games.
Devin Halcrow, the team’s other Kamloops product, has averaged 2.5 points per game in four appearances, none of them starts.
TRU is tied for 11th in Canada West standings. The top 12 teams get into the playoffs.
Eight of the Pack’s remaining 10 games are against teams that boast better records at the holiday break.
Despite the tough schedule, which includes two road games apiece against top teams in Calgary (12-0) and Winnipeg (8-4), it won’t surprise me to see TRU creep up the standings a few spots before season’s end.
And it won’t shock me if the Pack escape Round 1 of the playoffs. That said, I won’t be putting money on them reaching the conference final this season.
Again, slap it up on the bulletin board. I hope I’m wrong.
The short summary: It’s not pretty.
TRU, coached by Scott Reeves, is 3-7 and sits 14th in the 17-team league. The top 12 teams will qualify for the post-season. I don’t see it happening.
Two of the Pack’s victories came against the woeful UBC Okanagan Heat (0-12) of Kelowna.
Discontent may rear if the Wolves, who did manage a victory over the 6-4 UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver, can’t find a way to eke out a few wins in the second half, as they brace for 10 games against teams ahead of them in the standings.
I have no interest in crucifying a rebuilding team of hard-working players. There are bright spots.
Michelle Bos, the Pack’s fifth-year leader from Surrey, is averaging 16.6 points per game, leaving her tied for 11th in the conference in that category.
Leilani Carney, a fourth-year guard from Burnaby, averaged 7.5 points, 1.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game in 2017-2018. She is averaging 11.5 points, 1.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this season.
Fifth-year forward Emily Vilac and fifth-year guard Kanesha Reeves are the team’s top-contributing Kamloopsians, each having started all 10 games.
First-year guard and South Kamloops secondary graduate Lauren Walkley is enjoying a nice rookie season, averaging 15.9 minutes and four points per game.
Rounding out the Kamloops contingent are guards Emma Lizee and Emily Ferguson. Both have seen limited action and are looking for their first Canada West points.
More than half of TRU’s roster is composed of first- and second-year players. This will be a long season filled with learning moments that should help the team down the road.
I think they know that. No need to reach for the bulletin board.