The Mariners are back on the court for a fresh season of men’s volleyball at VIU. Coming off a silver-medal performance at Provincials last season, head coach Abe Avender has set high expectations for the M’s: book a ticket to the National Championships.
“I’ll be significantly let down if we don’t finish in the top three in the league… my goal for this group is to make Nationals, and see what we can do there,” Avender says. “I’m realistic, and with this group I really do think we have the opportunity to do some serious, quality damage in this league.”
Avender puts as much pressure on himself to fulfill those expectations as he does on the team. The Mariners have several new players this season, unlike last year when the squad remained mostly intact over the summer. It is a challenge, Avender notes, but one he is looking forward to.
“As a coach, I took for granted having guys that were all together for a few years— then this year we have ten new faces. So it’s a huge change in how guys are going to gel, and respond during good times and bad times,” Avender says.
“This year I will have a little more [pressure] on me, and I love that. I’m excited to figure out the little niches that will work [on the court].”
Despite losing several players from last year’s squad, VIU recruited a fresh arsenal of athletes over the summer.
Among them is 6-foot-8 Kyle Duperron, a fourth-year player who transferred from the University of British Columbia. Originally from Fort St. John, Duperron was a National junior team prospect and has already earned the praise from his coach.
“Kyle will be a huge threat this year…He’s an outstanding player, a good leader, and someone who I’m looking forward to seeing how he finds his niche with our team,” Avender says.
The Mariners added several first-year players, with Niall Cobbe and Zach Grigg as early-season standouts—both are 6-foot-3 left side hitters graduating from B.C. high schools.
VIU even has an international recruit to help their cause in Diego Bustos, a third-year Bachelor of Arts student from Tijuana, Mexico. Bustos has already been noted as a consistent offensive threat for the M’s.
The season kicked off Oct. 12 on a road trip to Camosun, where VIU heavily lost the first match 3–0 but played solid the next day to a 3–2 victory. Avender was slightly concerned after being blown away in the season-opener, but was satisfied with how well his team responded the next day.
“The Friday night was a bit of shell-shocker, we got rocked 3–0 and really the only fight we put up were the first 10 points of the first set. Then Saturday morning we got together and watched the game, and talked about what was good and what was bad,” Avender says.
“I think that built character right off the [start]. We needed to be able to show some grit and win, and I think the leadership just needed to figure out how to get guys to respond.”
Much of that leadership was displayed on the court when starting setter Adam Tishenko blew his ankle part-way through the second match—senior Dillon Collett entered the game off the bench with poise and confidence.
“He’s a pretty laid-back guy so it calmed down some of the crazy nerves,” Avender says. “He just simplified our offence—we have some great [plays] and big offensive players, but if everything is too haywire then it’s hard to get the ball to them. So he really helped out with getting things a little more mellow.”
The coaches were able to use that first weekend against Camosun to gauge the tendencies of each player. They examined whether players thrived as starters or were most comfortable coming off the bench, and looked at which players had the stamina for a whole match.
Avender and his staff also paid attention to chemistry on the court, and which Mariners executed best with each other. Already he is noticing that although the team has a range of experience and variety of skill sets, most players are ready to contribute in a match.
The Mariners begin the season with three weekends on the road, allowing the team plenty of time to bond right from the start. Still, the team is excited for their first pair of matches in front of VIU fans.
“If there’s ever anything the boys and the coaches love seeing, it’s a good crowd. It just makes our home-court advantage that much better,” Avender says.
“I couldn’t ask for a better schedule. With the second semester, we finish at home for four weekends—it’s huge for us from an advantage point of view because we play pretty well here, and it’s always nice to play in your own gym.”
Catch the Mariners’ first home match of the season Nov. 9 against Capilano at 8 p.m. in the gymnasium (bldg. 190).