As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the University of Calgary Dinos athletic department trusted me to write profiles about each inductee into the Dinos Hall of Fame, Class of 2017. I’ll post the profiles I wrote as they get released over the next two weeks. It was a pleasure to work with the university. I am very thankful for their trust.
Looking back more than a quarter century later, it’s easy to see why the 1988-89 University of Calgary Dinosaurs men’s volleyball team ran the table, capturing the national championship on home hardwood.
Everything came of age at the right time. A battle-tested veteran core that grew up together on campus and through the junior national program, with guidance from an iconic coach, came together to create the perfect season.
“Looking around during games and practices, you could tell that we had an embarrassment of riches,” said middle blocker Kevin Boyles.
All five starters returned from the previous season that saw the Dinos finish 31-13 in league and non-conference play. After losing in the Canada West final to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, the fire burned brighter to reach the mountaintop.
Once the University of Calgary was awarded the rights to host nationals, the Dinos were salivating at a chance to win the second national title in school history.
‘SOMETHING SPECIAL GOING ON’
Armed with All-Canadians – Randy Gingera, one of the top power hitters in the nation, Kelly Grosky and Boyles were first team conference all-stars the previous season – the time to win was upon them.
Gingera, Boyles and Grosky were all entering their fourth year as starters. They played and trained year-round, spending their first two summers with the junior national team, and the two summers leading up to the 1988-89 season with the national B team.
“We knew after our first year together, that we had something special going on here,” said Boyles.
“We had undeniable confidence coming into that year,” said Gingera. “And then we dropped Tom Elser into the lineup and we became unstoppable.”
The 6-foot-6 veteran blocker Elser returned to the Dinos after a four-year hiatus. Elser spent three of those seasons with the national team and half a season playing in the pro circuit in Europe.
The Dinos were stacked.
That fall, for reinforcements, head coach Greg Ryan stocked the prospect cupboard with two of Alberta’s elite high school players.
Andy Cameron and Bruce Edwards both stood 6-foot-5 and were highly coveted prospects coming out of high school.
Cameron would go on to win the Borden Ladner Gervais award in 1993 as the CIS Male Athlete of the Year. He went on to win nationals in 1993 and played internationally for Canada.
Bruce Edwards enjoyed an extremely successful career, spending eight years with the national team and winning six championships in Europe. He also saw the floor in several big matches, participating in the 1994 World Championships, 1999 World Cup and a pair of trips to the Pan-Am Games in 1995 and 1999, winning the bronze in 1999.
“We had future national program guys that couldn’t even get on the floor that year,” said Boyles.
NATIONAL TEAM SHARPENED SKILLS
At the time, the men’s national volleyball team was training out of Calgary and regularly held scrimmages with the Dinos at practice.
“I vividly remember taking on the national team at practice,” said Gingera. “We had some incredible five-set matches. I don’t think we ever won, but it didn’t matter. We believed that if we could battle the top team in the country, than we should have no problem against any other college team. We were very fortunate to have that opportunity.”
The Dinos cruised through the regular season, going 16-0, only dropping nine sets. They led the league with 229 blocks, finished second with 1,055 kills, allowed the fewest kills, at 806 and were blocked the fewest amount of times (169).
Combined with tournament play, Calgary finished the season 27-0, and that number displayed on the outside of each national championship ring as a friendly reminder.
FIRST-SET LOSS WOKE THE SLEEPING DINOS
The Dalhousie University Tigers shocked Calgary when they took the first set of nationals 17-15. After that, the Dinos didn’t look back.
Poking the bear, waking the sleeping dragon, stealing a set from the Dinos — all those scenarios have the same end result.
All the Dinos did from the second set onward, was steamroll the best competition the country had to offer. Calgary dismantled the University of Waterloo Warriors in straight sets (15-7, 15-7, 15-6) in the semifinal.
The final was a rematch of the 1987 bronze medal match, when the University of Manitoba Bisons erased a 2-0 set deficit, edging the Dinos in five.
The Dinos wouldn’t be denied this time, capping off the perfect year by sweeping the Bisons 3-0 (15-9, 15-11, 15-6), helping break in the relatively new Jack Simpson Gym.
“I remember thinking that I wished the match would have lasted a little longer,” joked Gingera. “The environment of playing on your home court was amazing. I didn’t want it to end.
“We were so young and inexperienced, it took a long time to build up our team. We lost a lot of close matches early on in our careers, and that was important for us. We needed to learn how to deal with those pressure situations.”
Grosky was named CIAU tournament MVP, as the other big three of Elser, Gingera and Boyles were named tournament all-stars.
“Kelly was the heart of the group. As the setter, he was the floor general. He had a lot of options of who to get the ball to, and he always made the right choice,” said Boyles.
TEAM FEATURED TRIO OF INDIVIDUAL HALL-OF-FAMERS
That season, Gingera, Grosky, Elser and Boyles were named first team Canada West all-stars, as they played in every set.
Gingera was the leading attacker during the regular season, finishing with 365 kills, 35 blocks and 14 aces in 56 sets. Boyles led the team with 58 blocks and finished with 188 kills. Grosky recorded 56 kills and 37 blocks, while Elser racked up 175 kills and 51 blocks.
Grosky was inducted to the Dinos Hall of Fame in 2015, and Boyles also enters on his own merits in 2017.
They are the third team to be inducted, joining the 1983 football team and the 1988-89 women’s basketball team.
Other members of the team included: David Holmes, Scott Miller, Darryl Osborne, Jim Travis, Chris Parsons, Shawn Wallich, Chris Rutledge and Doug Wiebe. The coaching staff consisted of Ryan and his assistants Jeff Johnston, Tony Wells, Lars Fields and Jacques Cabelguen. Marcel Chartrand was the team manager and therapist.