Spartans shuffle the deck as they look for three-peat

Trinity Western University aiming to win third straight national championship, a feat which hasn't been done in nearly 40 years

Trinity Western’s Nick Del Bianco (#18) will be counted on for a bigger role as the Spartans go for a third straight national title.

Trinity Western’s Nick Del Bianco (#18) will be counted on for a bigger role as the Spartans go for a third straight national title.

They may have lost half of their starting line-up, but that does not mean the Trinity Western Spartans don’t have lofty expectations for the upcoming volleyball season.

The Spartans men’s volleyball team is looking to become the first three-peat winner of the CIS national championship in March. The feat has not been accomplished since Winnipeg won four titles in a row from 1971 to 1974.

Trinity Western had opened the season ranked number one, but a loss last week to Alberta Golden Bears, who were ranked second, has seen the teams flip positions ahead of the start of Canada West conference play this weekend.

“We have to get better every day,” said coach Ben Josephson, when asked what it would take for this team to reach another championship.

And while they may have lost three key players to graduation, the Spartans do return a good veteran core.

The most consistent position of strength for the team will be down the middle as Dan Jansen Van Doorn and Lucas Van Berkel both return and form arguably the top middle tandem in the country. They are joined by newcomer Daniel Grant, a transfer from Columbia Bible College as well as Micah Jansen Van Doorn, who moves from setter to middle.

Dan Jansen Van Doorn, a fifth-year member of the Spartans, has had a solid pre-season, including being named the top blocker at last month’s U23 Pan American Cup.

Trinity Western represented Canada at the international event held at the Langley Events Centre. Canada lost the bronze-medal match.

On the outside, the Spartans have plenty of options when it comes time to fill out their line-up.

Steven Marshall, who started last season, may continue in that role, or he may serve as the team’s setter as the Spartans have suffered injuries at that position.

The quartet of Nick Del Bianco, Brad Kufske, Branden Schmidt and Derek Thiessen will be counted on for bigger roles in the offence, as will rookies Ryan Sclater and Tyler Heppell.

Heppell graduated from Langley Christian in June.

He is one of three LCS grads on the roster, along with the Jansen Van Doorns.

Fifth-year libero John Wiebe returns to the team after a one-year absence and will battle second-year player Tyler Koslowsky for the starting role.

Koslowsky spent part of the summer with Canada’s junior national team, helping them win silver.

With rookie Scott Plocktis the lone true setter on the roster — an ailing back injury has sidelined projected starter Devyn Plett — the plan was for captain Jarrod Offereins, the reigning national libero of the year, to switch to setter. But Offereins suffered an ankle injury,  prompting Marshall’s move to the position.

“We need to find a new identity,” Josephson said.

The key will be identifying where each player is best situated to succeed, he added.

The team went 10-6 in the pre-season, which includes their time representing Canada at the Pan Am Cup, where they went 2-3.

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The Spartans begin the Canada West regular seasons with home-and-home series against the UBC Thunderbirds.

The teams play in Vancouver on Friday (Oct. 26) and return to the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

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