GPRC Wolves working their way around coronavirus, sign Winnicky-Hussey

GPRC Wolves outside hitter Josh Dumont (#10) pushes away a serve during Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference action against the Concordia Thunder at the GPRC gym in late January. Wolves head coach Sam Tuivai (in the background) recruited St. Joe’s setter Ethan Winnicky-Hussey. Despite signing the local player, the novel coronavirus has forced the team to get creative in the recruiting game.  Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald-Tribune

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When the novel coronavirus pandemic started impacting northern Alberta, GPRC Wolves men’s volleyball Head Coach Sam Tuivai was busy, embroiled in the competitive world of recruiting.

Tuivai was winning his own recruiting battle, having narrowed his focus down to a handful of players but coronavirus brought everything to a halt, leaving Tuivai at a stand still.

“So far, (coronavirus is) definitely bringing challenges as I was supposed to do some recruiting at the end of this month and next month,”Tuivai said.

And when the college shut its doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some creative thinking had to occur, something along the lines of bringing the experience to the players the coach is trying to woo.

“Most of the recruits haven’t been up north to see the facility so we made an online virtual reality (tour) to show the gym off a little bit, the high performance (area). Stuff like that. We show them what the facilities look like.”

Four years of fun

Without getting into too much detail, the college can be at a slight competitive disadvantage when it comes to athletics as some schools in the Alberta College Athletic Conference (ACAC) offer more four-year programs than GPRC, meaning they get to keep and develop a team and players over a longer period of time.

And while Tuivai would love to have a number of players who choose to stay for a four or five-year period of time—thereby developing an older, stronger and more mature team—he has to watch his own backside as well, knowing winning is important at every institution.

Tuivai is looking for a healthy mix of experience and immediacy versus developmental players.

“At the end of the day, you have to make your (recruiting) decisions based on what you have on your team (at that time), with (having) to win at the end of the game,” Tuivai said.

Second half

The Wolves finished the season in sixth place in the ACAC north, earning six wins in two dozen games played.
Heading into the second half of the ACAC volleyball season, Tuivai set a goal of the bare minimum in terms of wins at one. Perhaps he knew more than he was willing to let on as his team picked up five wins in a dozen games.

The club went through plenty of challenges in the first half—losing 24 consecutive sets to start the season—but Tuivai was impressed the team managed to shut out the distraction and white noise from a very difficult first half.

“I was proud with the way they stuck with what we were working on, staying true, working hard and learning the off-court side of things, while bringing that to the court,” Tuivai said. “They were willing and bought into my vision and what I wanted to achieve for the first year.”

Adding local flavour

On the competitive recruiting trail, the GPRC Wolves made a local choice.

Wolves Head Volleyball Coach Sam Tuivai recently signed St. Joe’s Celtics setter Ethan Winnicky-Hussey for the upcoming season.

“I’m excited for what (Winnicky-Hussey) can bring,” Tuivai said. “He’s a good leader and a good teammate, who learns to adapt as he goes, adapting to what I’ve asked him for has been tremendous.”

The setter position requires someone with a quick mind, an experienced mind, combined with the ability to make the proper decision on the go.

“It’s a tough position because you can train certain ways but most the important part is learning to understand what’s happening in the game at that time, either in your court or the other side of the net,” Tuivai said. “Being able to understand who is hot and who is not and being able to the ball in different areas based on where the defence is.”

The former left side for the Brandon Bobcats of Canada West likes the overall package the teen setter brings to the Wolves going forward. Tuivai was a pro volleyball player in China, so he knows what he’s looking for and can appreciate and identify talent.

“(Winnicky-Hussey) is a physical (player), he has good hands but (it’s more) how crafty he can be, learning to adapt, taking risks in situations that are not easy and making hard decisions,” Tuivai said.

The head coach is excited the local setter is heading for the education department, meaning the setter has the option to stay at GPRC for an extended period of time.

“That allows me to develop him for four or five years at the college,” Tuivai said.

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