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Golden Bears volleyball on quest for 20th straight national appearance


Brock Davidiuk isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, just keep it rolling.

So when the first-year head coach of University of Alberta Golden Bears volleyball opens the 2019-20 post-season with a visit from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West quarter-finals this week, he’s not thinking about the streak he inherited from his predecessor.

Before Terry Danyluk moved upstairs to take on the title of general manager in order to focus on fundraising and recruiting for the program he had head coached since 1991, the Bears were on a run of 19 straight appearances at nationals.

“People have asked me that question, I don’t totally know how to answer it because I don’t really spend much mental energy on it, honestly, because it’s just a waste of time to do that,” said Davidiuk, who spent the past seven seasons as assistant coach of the Bears program he was a setter with from 2003-05, when they won both CanWest and a national championship.

And some quick math shows the streak extends even beyond his playing days with the Bears.

“I think it’s a better story if we talked about those things,” said Davidiuk, who went on to play professionally overseas while representing Canada on the senior national team from 2004-12. “But from my experience in sports, the high-performance, high competitors, their process and the wonderment of them is actually pretty boring. They’re just good at doing what they do and focusing on the little things.

“I preach the same to our players. We’re very simple and basic in the way we approach competing.”

Then again, had he concerned himself with stats and streaks instead of the tasks at hand, the Bears may not have been a focused enough group to finish with an 18-4 record as the No. 2 playoff seed behind the Trinity Western University Spartans (20-2).

As such, they host the No. 7 Huskies (10-12) at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Thursday and Friday (6 p.m., CanadaWest.tv) with a third and deciding game at the same time Saturday, if necessary.

“We beat them on the road. We had a pretty good series,” said Davidiuk, whose squad only dropped one set in a two-game sweep to end the regular season two weeks ago.”

And, besides, just keeping the streak alive would be short-sighted, if you’re asking the Bears.

“All our guys have pretty big long-term goals, and I think that’s the kind of players we attract in this program. So, they all want to win the whole thing,” said Davidiuk, 36. “That can happen in a whole bunch of different ways.

“I think putting ourselves in a position to host this weekend was good, as well as being in the spot where if we win this weekend, we host again. That would be really beneficial.”

Especially with the berth structure to reach nationals being one of the most difficult it’s been in recent memory, considering the University of Manitoba takes up a host spot after failing to make playoffs on their own. That leaves just two qualifying spots for the rest of CanWest, largely regarded as the most competitive U-Sports conference, year over year.

So, in that sense, even reaching nationals is an accomplishment. Let alone doing it for two decades straight.

“I think it speaks to the program that Terry’s grown,” Davidiuk said. “In the coaching position, I came into a program that is established as one of the best, all time. So that’s a big honour to be a part of. That’s part of the reason why I came back, just because I loved playing here.

“And then when I started volunteer coaching, I really enjoyed being with the guys and the team and the staff. And it’s awesome to be in such a high-performance environment.”

At the same time, coaching can only take a team so far. In a do-or-die series with the Bears embarking on the pursuit of their first conference title since winning back-to-back in 2014 and ’15, it will all come down to the ones who are actually on the court.

“I was like that as a player, I really tried to do as much as I could and I want to do as much as I can as a coach,” he said. “Part of that does, at times, mean I’ve got to step back and let them do their thing. And I think we’re getting to that part of the season where it’s less about what I do.

“I think the guys have put a lot of work into the season, they’ve shown a tremendous amount of growth and that’s been really cool to watch. So I hope now we can kind of just cash in on that investment.”

And let things like streaks take care of themselves.

Email: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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