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The champions: how winning came to the University of Winnipeg.

Winning doesn't come easy. So when the University of Winnipeg's women's basketball team won the Canadian universities women's championship -- on network television no less -- a ticker-tape parade would have been nice. It didn't happen.

The win wasn't just another sweat-soaked pennant victory of a another little university. It was a phenomenal success story.

While Ontario, B.C., and Alberta have large populations to draw from, it is gritty Manitobans who take all the marbles on athletic playing fields.

Low-key and suffering from a lack of exposure, their triumphs are singularly seminal as badges of pride for their university and the people of their province. But, sadly, their only exposure is that they are one-day news wonders on the sports pages.

The meaning of their feats is far more than putting more points on the board than the competition. Take the University of Winnipeg for example. For a cumulative 20 weeks in this recent athletic season, all four athletic teams -- men's and women's volleyball and basketball -- ranked first in the 25-team Canadian Inter-University Athletic Union. Three of those teams came away with medals from the national championships.

The University of Winnipeg Wesmen women's volleyball team won the national title, and the Wesmen men's volleyball team won a bronze. Add that to the University of Winnipeg women's national win and there is something in this drive to be the very best. And in the end that's what they are.

The University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen's basketball team had never captured the national championship before this year, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Each year the Wesmen would arrive at the championship battle-tested, but always met a team that was physically big, long on experience and with shooters that would put Billy the Kid to shame.

The University of Victoria Vikettes beat the Lady Wesman in the finals last year. This spring the story was different. The 70-63 win over those same Vikettes was a culmination of a lot of strategies according to 14-year veteran Wesmen head coach Tom Kendall.

"We knew that if we got to the finals, we would face Laurentian or Victoria again. We just worked on solving the difficulties we had with Victoria last year. This year we had four or five people pick their game up a few notches when last year we had only a few."

Difficulties like a fortress-like key are defended by Vikettes the equivalent of the Brothers Grimm. By using balanced scoring (their own Billy the Kid, player of the year Sandra Carroll) and a full-court press, the Wesmen smothered the Vikettes like a velour sweater. And the player who provided the heart and soul for the Wesmen defense was fifth-year forward Michelle Chambers. Chambers is a lethal, six-foot-two court pistol.

"I like an aggressive game. I play better when my opponent is physical," the 23-year-old psychology major explains. An 'in-your-face' player during her years at the University of Winnipeg, Chambers has been invited to the National "A" team try-out in May. For Chambers, the results of the past few weeks have been very heady.

"Winning the championship and the MVP for the tournament just showed me that I made the right choices (in coming to the U of W). It is a great feeling," the aspiring police officer adds.

For the University of Victoria, it was like inside-your-shirt defense and trying to stop five enormous talents from scoring twenty points each. That sweaty basketball game made Kendall's team best in the country.

Laughs Kendall, "I didn't get a salary increase, but the response (from the university) was very positive and supportive. There is nothing like being the best at something, even for a short time. There are no large contracts. The girls play for the self-satisfaction. Some people say that is not very much, but the feeling that you were the best at something lasts a lifetime."

Often successful people have to make tough choices to get where they want to be. But it is the strength of will to follow something through which makes them succeed.

Diane Scott, 23, is the middle blocker for the University of Winnipeg's volleyball team. Few have had more success than this Winnipeg native. She has captured two national collegiate championships and travelled the world with the national volleyball team for three years.

Dough Reimer, the present coach of the University of Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball team, won his first national championship this year. It was Reimer who convinced Scott to play her final year of eligibility at university, to bolster the Wesmen team. Reimer says a balanced offense anchored by the experienced Scott made the team unbeatable. Says Reimer, "That (balance) was the characteristic that separated us from the other teams." The Wesman hammered the University of Alberta Pandas three games to none in the championship. The win was the first since 1989.

Scott says, "It felt really good. Volleyball really filled a void for me this year. I have no regrets about playing this year. It was fantastic." For her contribution, she was voted C.I.A.U. Female Player of the Year for volleyball and U of W's Female Athlete Of the Year.

At U.S. universities, campus sports are near charismatic. Bleachers are jammed, commercial sponsorships are plentiful, and for talented U.S. college athletes there is near Hollywood fame. So, a winners' parade for Winnipeg's university stars would seem the right thing to do. But is Winnipeg ready for such noontime glitter? Probably not. It's a shame. We'll wait a long time for the Jets or Bombers.


Reflections from a top volleyball coach

Mike Burchuk knows that winning feeling. He was head coach of the University of Winnipeg women's volleyball team from 1980 until 1989 during which the team captured six consecutive national championships -- 1983 to 1989 -- enshrining them in Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union history. He left the U of W to become coach of Canada's national volleyball team (based at the University of Winnipeg), but looks back with a sense of accomplishment.

Burchuk says, "I had great support from Aubrey Ferris (athletic director at the University of Winnipeg) and we were able to attract some great student athletes."

He says championship calibre coaching brings an understanding of what it takes to be successful over a long period of time.

Burchuk is demanding of his athletes. He has a recipe for success and he expects his players to follow it. That recipe demands a high level of performance on the court.

"Successful performance at the university level depends on all your skills as a volleyball player," says Burchuk. "However, at the international level, hitting and blocking lead to success.

"You try to have people play for you who are good at all skills. You need to be mentally strong, physically fit, technically sound and tactically prepared."

Burchuk is with his players at least three hours a day practising -- squats, stationary cycling, jump training to improve their strength. And after practise he often meets individually with players to reinforce what they have to do. They also study the opposing teams' service rotation to defend against it. The Three Ps of volleyball or any competition - practice, preparation, performance.

The team practices year-round for highlight matches, where the university teams have regular competition. Burchuk says the international competition isn't as frequent.

Burchuk has captured six national championships in nine years and only lost twelve matches in seven years -- a record unparalleled in Manitoba's university ranks. His win/loss ratio at the university is an incredible 450/58 or an 89 per cent win percentage. No other coach in C.I.A.U. volleyball can boast those kind of numbers.

The 43-year-old Burchuk, who has been coaching for 24 years says, "My goal when I began teaching and coaching at U of W was to win one (national championship). But we had some great people playing for us. We had people who knew how to win."

Winning ways can be passed on. Burchuk did just that. Ken Bentley has coached the University of Manitoba's women's volleyball team to three C.I.A.U. championships. He was an assistant coach to Burchuk, the beginning of a great friendship. Says Burchuk, "It is very gratifying. I think he would have been successful anyway. He has tremendous drive. He understands what it takes to win. That is what he learned from us."


How Michael Oste sees his future

For 17-year-old Michael Oste, volleyball isn't just personal -- it's business. He would like to play volleyball at a major university. Setting his sights beyond the perimeter of Manitoba, Oste has chosen a seldom-followed route -- he is on the verge of hiring a consultant to find a university that will pay his way.

The agency is called College Prospects, and they provide a service which matches up potential athletes with colleges and universities across North America. "They get a profile of you and then enter it into a computer so schools can get a look at you," says Oste. "It is difficult for schools in California to hear about you otherwise."

He first heard about the recruiting service from his guidance counsellor, then started talking to his parents about it. For the West Kildonan Collegiate student, planning ahead just seemed like the best thing to do.

"You have to plan your courses for Grade 12 to be able to make the entrance requirements for some of these schools, so it is good to start early -- at least thinking about it."

Because the cost of mailing profiles and statistics to the over 300 universities which offer scholarships for volleyball is expensive, the service is ideal for parents who want their sons or daughters to get exposure across the country or across the border. The service boasts a 95 per cent success rate.

There are several athletes who have utilized the service in Ontario and received full scholarships to play volleyball at the University of Southern California. While what Oste is undertaking is not new, it is certainly remarkable to see a young athlete with such forethought into his future.

But even if there are no schools outside Manitoba who desire Oste's services, both the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba would be happy to have him. The early leader in this recruiting battle appears to be Manitoba, as Oste would like to go into medicine. At 6'3" and with another year of high school still to go, he will have a little growing left to do. "I just hope I can keep developing," says Oste. After practicing with the Winnipeg Wesmen juvenile team, he says he hopes he can return to these courts in a few years. "A few years ago I never would have thought I'd be here. There are some really good players here. If I keep working I could be at the same level in a few years' time."
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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Johns, Christopher H.
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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