Volume 91, Issue 47

Thursday, November 20, 1997

stars and strife


Rookies volley into spotlight

©Ian Ross/Gazette
WAIT A MINUTE, I HAVE TO FIX MY HAIR FIRST. Mustang rookies Chris Gruhn, Jeremy Jonckheere, Andrew Coles, Jeff Ranson and Peter Testa stand proud as new members of the Mustang family.

By John Intini

Gazette Staff

The Mustang men's volleyball team has a six-pack of freshmen this season whose play is sure to provide fans with drunken pleasures for the remainder of this season and well into the future.

In one of Western volleyball's busiest off-seasons in memory, head coach Dave Preston filled the void left by last year's departing seniors, Rob Mizak, Colin Shawyer and team captain Geoff Miller with six of the top-ranked freshmen in the country.

The group of fearless freshman includes Peter Testa, Andrew Coles, Chris Gruhn, Jeremy Jonckheere and Jeff Ranson who have all played together in the past under Preston for Team Ontario. Rounding out the rookie attack is Mark Zeleny, an alternate player for the "B" team this season.

The rookies have received a substantial amount of playing time, impressing the coaching staff with their ability to handle pressure-packed situations.

"Every time we've called on one of the guys, they've produced," Preston said. "They've been incredible in tough game roles and have performed much more admirably than could ever be expected."

All six players understand their role on the team during their first season at the varsity level will consist of being mainly gap-fillers, but Preston said the future of all six spikers will be much sooner than later.

"Our team is really deep, but a lot of that has to do with the incredible play of our rookies who have stepped-up to be a big part of our team," he said. "The future is now."

Testa and Jonckheere have been two of the biggest stand-outs so far this season – putting their coach in a very tough bind because he has at times been forced to sit his starters in favour of the rookies.

Testa himself has earned 50 per cent of the court time this season at the setter position with veteran Scott Peckham. The rookie feels the friendly rivalry between the two offers a chance for both players to improve their skills.

"My job this season is not to take Scott's job," Testa said, "but rather push him to play better and elevate my game with the competition. I hope to be a leader in the future, but right now my role is to help the team out when I can."

According to Preston, Jonckheere, a middle player, has used all of his six-foot-six frame this season to quickly become one of the top blockers in the province.

"Jeremy's blocking is unbelievable for a player with so little experience in the university game," he said. "He is arguably the top blocker in the province right now which is an incredible accomplishment for a freshman."

All six players have used the experience from provincial level volleyball to make the jump from high-school ball much easier.

"In order to compete, I have to bring my game up a definite notch due to the size, speed and power of the bigger players at the university level," Coles said. "Playing for Team Ontario definitely made the step considerably less steep."

Outside hitter Gruhn added the importance of consistently keeping his head in the game, a skill he said was not needed to the same degree in high school.

"The speed of the game is quite different as well as the need to be much more mentally tough," he said. "This is definitely a season to pay my dues and get experience."

Preston said the transition to the university level for the rookies has also been aided by great team chemistry.

"We definitely have a lot of diversity and range in age on this team but respect has been the key," Preston said. "Both the veterans have had a great deal of respect for the incoming rookies and similarly the rookies have had a great deal of respect for the veterans."

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997