New recruits, key veterans to lead team to success

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western men's volleyball spiking the ball over the net

Jonas Hrebeniuk

Boasting one of the best recruiting classes in years, the Western men’s volleyball team is poised to take on the competition and prove themselves after last season’s early playoff exit.

“We had a pretty successful recruiting campaign,” Mustangs head coach Jim Sage said. “We have a good core of veterans coming back, so even making the team this year is quite an accomplishment.

“Some rookies that stand out right now are Matt Gibson, who had some opportunities to go on scholarship to the [United] States, but elected to come to Western. He is a setter with the provincial team.

“We’ve got strong middles in Nadan Omercajic and Payton Hollis. Nadan is from London and Payton is from Waterloo. We’ve also recruited another outside hitter, Demetri Kantzos, who is from Saunders [Secondary School] here in London.”

In addition to adding several young players to the team, Sage is also pleased to welcome back a few veterans.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that have been around and will hopefully give us an advantage once those tight games come into play,” Sage said.

“Luke Schram is back for another year after playing four years a while ago, and Chris Mokry has come back for his fifth year as well. That really helps at the outside hitting position. They’ll also be challenged by some other guys trying to get their spot.”

Such a strong group of athletes has led to increased competition for starting spots on the team. However, last year’s starting six thinks that will only make the squad stronger.

“Throughout my four years here, I’d say this is probably our best recruiting year,” libero Chris Graham said. “It’s great because the guys who are normally the starters need to watch out since there is so much talent on our team.

“This makes Jim’s job a little harder, but actually makes it better competition for the team during practice.”

Second-year outside hitter Reid Halpenny agreed.

“It’s always good to have new faces on the team and new challenges for each of us. Everyone is working hard and trying to impress the coaches and prove their spot on this team.”

Sage hopes increased competition during practice sessions will allow him to get the best out of each player in every game.

“We need to have each individual contributing to the whole of the team,” Sage said. “If one person is having an off night, we need that person to pick it up immediately.

“If one of the cogs of that wheel is not functioning, we are going to be in trouble. If everybody is contributing, we can be one of the top teams in the province, without a doubt.”

Third-year middle Eric Simon added on-court focus is crucial this season.

“We’ve just got to play our game, and focus on our side,” he said. “We tend to get carried away with what the other team is doing and can stray from our game. We just need to pass up, serve and the rest will follow.”

With such a promising group of players, Sage is keen to begin the regular season.

“It should be a really exciting season,” he said. “Hopefully we can get some fans out and generate some excitement along with the women’s team. This is probably the best team I’ve had here talent-wise since I started.

“We should be very explosive offensively. We’re going to have a very balanced attack, so it should be very fun volleyball to watch.”

The team’s home opener is Sat., Nov. 3 against defending Ontario University Athletics champions Queen’s. The action kicks off at Alumni Hall at 8 p.m.

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