The jerseys may have the Maple Leaf on them, but there is a strong local flavour to the Canadian entry for this week’s U23 Pan American Cup.
The international volleyball event — which also features teams from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the Dominican Republic — kicks off today (Tuesday) and runs until Sunday (Sept. 30) at the Langley Events Centre.
With Canada not having a U23 team, the Trinity Western Spartans — the two-time defending Canadian Interuniversity Sport champions — were chosen to represent Canada.
And 11 of the 16 Spartan players hail from the Fraser Valley and came up through the Fraser Valley Volleyball Club system.
It also includes a trio of Langley Christian alumni in Dan Jansen Van Doorn, Micah Jansen Van Doorn and Tyler Heppell.
“It’s great because it means we are connected to the local community and our fan base has a meaningful link to our athletes because, for the most part, our guys grew up right here playing in the Fraser Valley and playing for our club,” said Trinity Western head coach Ben Josephson.
“I think it creates an advantage from a development perspective but also culturally. They’ve grown up around our culture. They’ve grown up around our athletes. They know what we’re all about. They know what’s expected of being a Spartan.”
And once these players get in the system, being a Spartan becomes the goal.
“Playing with FVVC just gave me that experience,” said the Spartans Nick Del Bianco.
“I knew what (Ben) wanted. I knew what he liked and what he didn’t like and that was a big part of why I came to Trinity Western. I just liked being coached by him so much that I wanted to continue to be coached by him at the university level.
“At FVVC, it’s a community. All the guys on the team hang out together and it’s a great atmosphere that is similar to Trinity Western.”
And while FVVC has been a major part of the Spartans success, the local high schools – again largely infiltrated with coaches who are Trinity Western alumni – are also consistently preparing players to wear Spartan blue and yellow. From volleyball hotbeds like MEI (Mennonite Educational Institute) to Langley Christian to Surrey Christian to Pacific Academy, the leadership within the volleyball programs most often comes with a Spartan flavour, if not entirely the meal deal.
“The fact that we have continuity between the high schools, the club system and our university program allows us to become very efficient and have good quality with what we’re doing,” Josephson said. “Whether it’s right or wrong, the continuity is there so it allows us to get better quicker because we don’t waste time teaching different things at different levels.”
And now, in just over a week, the Spartans have an opportunity to put their training to the test against some of the best in the world. With many of the top under-23 teams in the Americas coming to Langley, Trinity Western will likely be in tough, but if there’s a group of trained men ready to take on the challenge, it’s these Spartans.
The round robin games are set for 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. everyday with Canada playing in the later game.
The top two teams play Sunday at 5 p.m. for the gold, while the bronze medal game is the same day at 3 p.m.