Volleyball veterans want gold

The Journal sits down with the five fifth-year players ahead of men’s volleyball’s season opener tonight

Left to right: Michael Amoroso, Dan Rosenbaum, Bryan Fautley, Joren Zeeman and Niko Rukavina.
Left to right: Michael Amoroso, Dan Rosenbaum, Bryan Fautley, Joren Zeeman and Niko Rukavina.
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The national men’s volleyball championship at Queen’s will mark the end of an era for of five fifth-year players.

In 2007, head coach Brenda Willis brought in six recruits — setter Dan Rosenbaum, middles Michael Amoroso and Will Bulmer, and outside hitters Bryan Fautley, Niko Rukavina and Joren Zeeman. With the exception of Bulmer — who left after two seasons because of illness — they’ve been the team’s core players for the past three seasons.

The group peaked in the 2009-10 season, winning an OUA gold and earning a fifth-place finish at the CIS championship in British Columbia. But the 2010-11 squad couldn’t overcome injuries to Rosenbaum and Rukavina and fell to the McMaster Marauders in the OUA semifinal. Rosenbaum, Fautley and Rukavina are still dealing with long-term injuries, but are hoping to play at nationals next March.

By bringing in five rookies this season, Willis is preparing for the next era of men’s volleyball at Queen’s. But right now, her focus is on her last shot with the current era.

The Journal’s Sports section sat down with the team’s fifth-year five — Amoroso, Fautley, Rosenbaum, Rukavina and Zeeman — to reflect on the past four seasons and look ahead to the fifth one.

How did you all decide to come back for a fifth-year?

Rukavina: There was a mindset for all of us coming into first-year that we were going to stay for five years.

Amoroso:
As soon as we solidified that we were going to host nationals, it was pretty much set it in stone.

Fautley:
I was on a four-year plan until halfway through third year. Then, I switched to a five-year plan once Brenda confirmed we had nationals.

What’s it like to spend five years with the same core group?

Rukavina: It’s a pretty ideal situation for a team to have five core guys who all play different positions. The line-up has been set for a while now. It’s nice for a team to build that way.

Rosenbaum: It’s fun to see the big class of rookies who are here right now. It makes us think back to when we showed up and what the older guys probably thought of us at the time.

Was it intimidating to come in as rookies?

Rosenbaum: I loved it. When I came in, there was a three-time all-Canadian setter [Devon Miller] in my position and I knew I’d be trying to fill those shoes. It was an awesome thing for me — trying to soak up everything I could from him.

Fautley:
These rookies really haven’t come in with too much of an intimidation factor. They’re in the same boat as we were, eager and ready to learn.

Rukavina: There’s so much you can gain from playing with guys at a higher level. When we were in first year, just watching some of the older guys play and talking to them helped so much. I’m sure that the younger guys on our team are doing the same thing.

Does this year’s group of rookies remind you of yourselves?

Amoroso: I’ll just have flashes of first year when we were in the same situation when you’re coming in wide-eyed. You don’t really know what’s going on but you think you [do]. They’re definitely a talented group. At the same time, the jump from high school to university is pretty big.

Fautley: The nice thing is that they seem to be pretty receptive. They’re soaking it up and improving at a very quick rate. They’ve developed a really cool rookie culture too.

How does the annual trip over winter break affect the team?

Amoroso: Our first and second year, we were in Florida. In third year, we went to Holland and Germany and last year, we were in British Columbia. This year we’re going back to BC to scrimmage with Trinity Western, who won nationals last year. That period has always been team time.

Rukavina: It was probably ideal for us to do [the trip to Europe] in third year. We were more or less the older guys on the team and it was a really good bonding experience.

How has coach Brenda Willis contributed to the team dynamic?

Rosenbaum: Brenda’s got a different style of coaching. From day one, the older guys said “Brenda’s not going to be the drill-sergeant type coach who’s going to run you if you make mistakes.” So that focus and that drive comes from within the team. In that respect, it brings guys closer.

Fautley: Brenda’s the first person to advocate for a team trip or a team bonding session. Those sorts of experiences get us to come together and have a really strong team culture.

Amoroso: Brenda recruits by eras. So this would be our era and when we came in there was an entire era of fifth- and fourth-year guys who were there. The rookies are the next era.

What’s it like to start the season with injuries?

Rosenbaum: It’s strange. We all committed to this plan [to come back for a fifth year] and we all expected to be on the floor together at the end of the year. But it’s still a possibility.

Amoroso: Before we came, none of us had ever had serious injuries. Coming in at 18, injuries never really crossed our minds. But Will [Bulmer] is a perfect example. It’s strange to have it all happen at once in this program.

Zeeman: With the injuries, our newest challenge is to integrate some of the younger players into the line-up that’s on the floor. We had something going by third year. We’d all learned the systems and started executing together. Now we’ve had to add in different personnel and that’s been a big challenge for us. That’s what this year’s going to entail.

What’s it going to be like with nationals already guaranteed
?

Fautley:
Our team’s goal for this year is to do as well as we possibly can at nationals and also to develop our rookies and our bench. When we lose possibly up to eight guys next year, we want to have a solid foundation to fall back on. With all the injuries, this is the perfect opportunity to give them the exposure that they need so they can lead next year.

Rukavina: At the same time, we want to earn our berth, not just have it be given to us. We want to win OUAs.

Can you win nationals?

Rosenbaum: Brenda had a long-term plan for our class — to win an OUA championship in our third year, to win a first-round match at nationals in our fourth year and to medal in fifth year. We suffered a bit of a hiccup last year, but for the past few years our mindset has been “We need to have an opportunity to play for a medal at nationals.” That’s still a goal for the end of the season.

Amoroso:
Teams [from Western Canada] have tough matches every week and they’re going to improve at a rapid rate, which is where our challenge comes in. Because [most OUA games] aren’t going to push us as much competitively as we would like them to, there’s going to need to be a lot more coming from practice from our own end to keep us competitive.

What do you want the legacy of your era to be?

Fautley: A national gold.

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