By LARRY READ
A lot of people will be watching the Olympic men’s volleyball competition with great interest over the next couple of weeks, but none has more of a connection than TRU’s head coach Pat Hennelly.
After all, two of his former players are representing their respective countries at the event.
Gord Perrin (Creston) was the WolfPack’s first legitimate star since they entered the CIS in 2005. Perrin brought the school and the program its first accolades when he was named a CIS All-Canadian in 2010. He is wearing the red and white of Team Canada in Rio.
Kevin Tillie (Sur de Mer, France) played two seasons with TRU and was named the CIS rookie of the year in 2010. He is playing for his father Laurent with the French National Team.
Canada will play France on Thursday, Aug. 11. Where will Hennelly stand?
“I hope Kevin does well,’ the WolfPack coach said. “But obviously, I am cheering for Canada. It is good to see Kevin and his father — a father/son combination at the Olympics. I really would like to see Canada win a couple of games and even step up in the world.”
Both Tillie and Perrin were teammates in 2010 with the WolfPack. That was the year TRU hosted CIS Nationals. Hennelly is watching his two former players with great interest and great pride.
“You want guys to go beyond the CIS and TRU program,’ said Hennelly. “ Here are two of our best. They both have reached pretty good heights with their respective national teams and professionally. It is every athletes goal to make it to the Olympics and represent their country.”
Hennelly remembers back when he first identified Perrin.
“When I first got this job (2005), Gord was the MVP for the Western Elites championships. It just happens he is from Creston, BC and I am good friends with his high school coach Mike Nelson. I started recruiting him immediately. He was in high school. It was a process. Gord was a high caliber player back then and likely the best player in Canada coming out of high school. It was a major coup for us to get someone of his stature to sign with us as a fairly young program. Gord proved his worth right away at Nationals in Laval. In front of 3,500 people, he was arguably the best player for us as we knocked off Laval in our first match. He was an all-star at that tournament. He showed right off the bat that he could excel under pressure.”
The WolfPack coach said Perrin was something special back then. “Everyone in volleyball knew Gord had some special talent. It was just a matter of getting him to direct his energy towards volleyball and school. Like any young player, he had to work on his weaknesses. I am really proud of how he has developed as a player and a person. He continues to do things that surprise me. He taught himself how to play the guitar and is continuing his education through TRU Open Learning. Gord left here as a CIS All-Canadian and a two time member of the Junior National Team. He has kept working hard at his game and has become better and better every year. ”
Perrin left TRU to spend a year with Volleyball Canada’s Full Time Training Center in Gatineau, Que. He then turned professional and has played in Turkey, Italy and this coming year will play in Poland.
As for Tillie: “It was a short recruiting process for Kevin,” Hennelly SAID. “He was trying to go to the United States. Robin Schoebel (former WolfPack player) is also from France. He played professionally for Kevin’s Dad. Kevin was unable to go to the States immediately because he didn’t have enough high school credits. Kevin gave us a call late in July of 2010. TRU World worked very hard to get him fast tracked into school. We lost him a couple of years later but Kevin was always very transparent in what his long term goals were. He was great for us for two years. In my mind, he was the best skilled first year player we have ever had. Kevin just had to grow into his body. He came here at six feet, seven inches, and 150 pounds. He has continued to gain strength and match the extremely high skill level he had.”
Hennelly recalls in 2010, it was a challenge getting both into the line-up. “ Both those guys were excellent players. Unfortunately that year, Gord hurt his back going into the playoffs. That injury hampered Gord in that tournament. It’s hard to find two left sides of that calibre on the court at the same time. Kevin wound up playing the right side. Kevin was such a well-rounded player. He has been versed in the sport at such a young age. His father was captain of the French National Team and his mom was the captain of the Dutch National team. Gord brought more of a competition level while Kevin was pure skill.”
Hennelly said the Olympics could be Perrin’s “coming out” party in taking over the reigns as Canada’s top player. “Absolutely. Many people say that his performance in the ‘last chance’ qualifier was Gord’s finest game. He is at the right age and enough experience with his physicality to really make a push. He is continuing to grow as a player. The best thing about the Olympics is that everyone in the world has their eyes on you. If Gord has a good tournament, that will translate into better professional contracts and potentially a longer career. It is win-win. We are going to get exposure in a sport that doesn’t get that in Canada. Everyone on that team will have the opportunity to get better contracts.”
In the opening round of games on Sunday (August 7), Canada upset the Americans 3-0 (25-23,25-17,25-23). Perrin had eight kills, five service aces and three blocks. France lost in three straight sets to Italy (25-20,25-20,25-15). Tillie had 11 kills and five service aces.
Does Hennelly think our country can play with the big powers in Rio? “The trouble with our country is volleyball is not a high profile sport like hockey. So we have a trouble with depth. Other countries like Brazil, Poland, France and Russia have multiple players who can come off the bench and play an intense game. Canada doesn’t have that luxury. We are a true underdog story at the Olympics. I hope our guys can go and compete like they can. Certainly Gord Perrin was one of the main reasons why Canada made it through that ‘last chance’ qualifier.
SIDE OUTS: Hennelly said the makeup of Canada’s National team proves how strong the Canada West league (where the WolfPack play) is. Only two of the players on the roster are not from Canada West.
“I think it shows that we (Canada West) can do our job and attract some of this country’s best athletes. We do lose athletes to the NCAA and athletes that decide to go directly to the Full Time Training Centre and play professionally. I think it shows where the volleyball talent lies. It is exciting. There are a few guys Gord’s age that were at the 2010 CIS nationals that are on the national team as well: couple of guys from Calgary and a couple of guys from Trinity. We say this is the best league in Canada but it is one of the best university leagues anywhere. I think we could compete with the Asian leagues which is very robust and we could definitely compete with some of the American teams. It is nice for an association like Canada West. We have shown in the past –through the medal count at nationals — that we have some of the best team available.”