Now that the 2011-12 OUA season has wrapped up for the Ryerson Men's Volleyball team, my view from the spectators' bleachers is that the team came a long, good way since it first started last autumn, and that the team has grounds for celebrating many successes in various forms. There are at least three major points that may be worth some thought by the members of the team.
First, the team has been and is building successfully. Second, the individual members of the team have grown and matured with the team structure behind them for support. Third, the team has garnered a lot of admiration and respect, which will continue to grow.
All and all, this was a great building year for the team - building on lots of energy and enthusiasm, lots of talent and lots of individual character; building up skills, physical capacity and mental toughness; and building character and mutual reliance by facing and overcoming challenges and working hard to take advantage of opportunities. It has set the basis for further growth and well-rounded successes through this past season, and will serve well for next year and beyond.
No doubt there are some who will look immediately at the win-loss column, or at the fact that Ryerson is not a presence at the playoffs, and see little or no room for calling it a successful year. But of course they would be quite wrong. Win/loss statistics can be a useful shorthand to measure success (even though many erroneously put full weight on them). However, a win in a team sport such as volleyball can be quite hollow without the balance of thinking about what makes a team work well; what sort of increased perspective, skill and cross-team support occur; and what others think of it and its members. This year's win/loss numbers don't come anywhere close to telling the story about how much the men's volleyball team, and its individual members, moved to meeting the objectives and priorities set for the team or that it adopted as its own. They don't demonstrate that the athletes, individually and collectively, improved themselves and were helped to improve themselves, maturing even further, and moving closer to bringing collective dreams and aspirations closer to reality.
This year was a growing and building-up year, and we all know that it takes time to build solidly-based and well-balanced team, and the benefits can be lost or delayed in an over-eager rush for quick success, no matter how alluring that might be. It sounds a bit trite to say that the momentum is headed in the right direction, but that is, in fact, the case. The Rams' men's team has taken the needed time to experiment with the mix of skills and abilities that both its older and newer members have brought to the mix. They've realized that there are different ways to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They have worked hard to find ways to build cohesiveness and solidarity, in the face of the pressures to perform well and, yes, event to push for the golden ring of more wins.
I think the team came along very well through the year. It shows in the increasing frequency that the team was able to master its play, make its teamwork work to positive advantage more and more over time, overcome injuries, illness and other interruptions, and build on successes to make them occur more often and be more consistent. It shows in the confidence of the team on court, and the excitement when the team's efforts have worked especially well - much to the chagrin of whoever chanced to be their opponents at the moment!
Second, it has been impressive to watch the team dynamics adjust through the year, and to watch the growth of confidence in the athletes. From the sidelines it has been frustrating to watch injuries or illness sideline talent for short or longer periods of time. It has also been good to watch team members step up to provide support and fill in for those gaps. It has been exciting watching upper year players work their own talents and skill sets into the mix of this year's team, and to watch each of the newer members of the team find his way -- all expanding their own horizons and growing with the unique culture that the Rams' men's volleyball team has made its own.
As in past years, Mirek, I've been impressed with the emphasis that you, Roger and Lucas have continually placed on academic success for the athletes, not just sports-based success, as a mark of a well-rounded varsity athlete. That balance is important and sets the tone for future success in the work world and other endeavours after graduation. Over the years, it has been increasingly clear that Ryerson's academic expectations are integral to how the team is expected to operate, and this has certainly been the case this past year.
Third, the team's efforts to shape its own 'culture' and approach in meaningful ways and to represent its school have been laudable. The work to support for charity fundraising, the lessons learned through the team's training trip to Cuba, and the contributions of various team members to raising the team's profile through articles on the team's blog, are among the very good examples that the team members recognize that they are fortunate to have the privilege to participate in and be supported in broadening their horizons and making their university experience even richer.
Mirek, it was a bit sad to be at the team's last home game in the Kerr Hall gymnasium a few weeks ago. That venerable facility has a long history of volleyball stories and successes. It was also sad to see some of the individual athletes who have been with the team for many years play their last games as a Ryerson Ram before moving on to whatever their future paths may hold. My best wishes for their own versions of success in the coming years and beyond.
At the same time, the sadness was, and is, overbalanced by optimism for the future. Of course, the good traditions (but not the low ceiling) will transfer when the team moves to its new home at Maple Leaf Gardens next autumn. I am certainly looking forward for the team that plays its first game there next fall to build its successes next year on what the team has achieved this year. I am sure it will be a team that has set its new goals and will expect to achieve a wide range of successes. I'm also sure that it won't be a team that is too narrowly focused or that will expect excellence without the mix of commitment, contribution and hard work on top of native talent and individual versatility. I am also sure that it will be composed of individuals who will value the guidance that you and the others supporting them will provide.
I am looking forward to watching from the bleachers as the team moves ahead. Next autumn will bring back the talented athletes who are continuing with the team, and will see others join the team's efforts with their skill and abilities. You and they will work hard to create a brand new mix that will help the team build on its successes - that will endeavour to make more of its dreams and aspirations into reality.
With many thanks for this past season, and with great expectations for the Rams' next season! As well, I offer best wishes to everyone on the team as you move toward term end projects, papers and exams. As in the past, I hope to see many of you training and competing in beach volleyball though the summer months. Yours truly, Jay Nuttall