Exhibition games with U.S. schools should give Golden Bears a good test

Title: Exhibition games with U.S. schools should give Golden Bears a good test
Date: January 1, 2013
Original Source: The Edmonton Journal
Synopsis: I am doing a short internship over the holidays at The Edmonton Journal. My latest piece was a feature on the upcoming trip to California for the U of A men’s volleyball team. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

The University of Alberta Golden Bears men’s volleyball team, which is undefeated in Canada West league play this season, is taking its talents to California.

The Bears will face four teams from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in what should prove to be a challenging and rewarding week. At 12-0 in conference play and 19-2 overall, the Bears will be looking to defeat some highly touted American teams, including third-ranked Pepperdine and fifth-ranked UCLA.

The four-game exhibition swing will be a chance for Alberta to further prove that Canada West volleyball is on par with volleyball south of the border. Pepperdine was in British Columbia over the weekend and lost to both UBC and Thompson Rivers University in an exhibition tournament, so the opportunity is present for Alberta to reinforce that message.

Of course, the U.S. teams have yet to engage in regular-season action, so it might not be fair to judge them on these early-season exhibitions. For the Bears, though, these are certainly measuring-stick games.

“The teams we are playing are traditionally some of the strongest in the NCAA,” said Bears head coach Terry Danyluk. “The teams will try and find our weaknesses and exploit them, which will help us identify them as well.”

When the NCAA changed its travel rules, Canadian schools lost the chance to host American teams early in the season. That makes this set of games an important test for the Bears they may not have otherwise had.

“The benefit I’ve found over the years is a cumulative thing,” said Danyluk. “It provides an opportunity to play new teams and learn, and see some new things. It’s an important chance to learn by playing different types of teams.”

It’s also a chance for Alberta to get back on the court and avoid too long of a layoff. The Bears’ schedule had a gap from Dec. 1 to Jan. 11, so adding some legitimate, non-practice competition is a near-must for Danyluk to keep his charges game-ready.

“The hope is that we come back better,” said Danyluk. “That’s the objective, to keep progressing. And, with a long time off, this will hopefully kick-start us for the second half.”

It will be an exciting and challenging second half, too. The Bears are halfway to repeating their 2008-09 feat of an undefeated Canada West season, something that hadn’t previously been accomplished since 1988-89. But there are far too many strong teams and tough match-ups for Alberta to make an undefeated season a priority, and the team wants to peak in the playoffs, not the regular season.

“I never talk about it,” said Danyluk. “It’s more important to focus on just being better in the second half.”

For the U.S. teams that will be hosting the Bears, the games are more about tuning up than getting ready for the stretch run. Their holiday layoff interrupted preparation for the season rather than the season itself, and the teams are hopeful that these games will help shake off the cobwebs.

“They’re in the middle of their season,” said UCLA head coach John Speraw. “We’ve had a one-month break and they’re talented and sharp. Alberta has been great for so long that it’s great preparation for us. And it doesn’t count on our record, so it gives us a chance to try some things and see how we look.”

The action begins on Jan. 2 with a game against UCLA, and then games against Cal State Northridge, USC and Pepperdine on successive days.


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