During the last NBA season – in which the Toronto Raptors captured their first-ever title – the term ‘load management’ became the preferred descriptor across the sports world for teams that chose to rest star players to ensure they stay healthy for a full season.
And while he might not have Kawhi Leonard – the NBA star most synonymous with the term – on his roster, Earl Marriott Secondary senior boys volleyball coach Dale Quiring knows more than a little bit about keeping his players healthy and playing at full strength.
In fact, the success of his young squad rests on it.
The Mariners, who are the defending B.C. triple-A provincial champions, are currently ranked as the province’s No. 1 team, but they have just nine players – three or four fewer than most teams’ rosters.
Thankfully for Quiring, so far this season, the team’s numbers – or lack thereof – haven’t had too many negative effects. The Mariners finished first at a recent tournament at Douglas College, and earlier this season placed second at the UBC Invitational. Positive results, though Quiring admits the runner-up placing was a result, at least in part, of his smaller-than-usual roster.
“We were close at UBC, but we just ran out of gas at the end – I only had seven players,” Quiring said. “We were playing a really good team from Alberta, and they were subbing guys in and out, and I was like, ‘I’ve got nobody.’”
It’s not just volleyball that members of Quiring’s crew has to stay fresh for, either. Most, if not all, members of the team are multi-sport athletes. Grade 12 twins Talon and Takoda McMullin are both top-level rugby players – they led Marriott’s senior boys side to a provincial crown in that sport last spring – while a handful of others, including Quiring’s son Josh, play soccer at Coastal FC, or other high-school sports like basketball.
Despite their busy sporting schedules, Quiring said the boys’ dedication to volleyball goes a long way to helping team overcome any lack of depth. As well, the team has been together since Grade 8, and two years ago won a B.C. junior boys title with Quiring at the helm. Last season, they were coached by Al Schill, while Quiring coached his daughter’s Grade 8 team.
“It’s how they approach it. They come to practice, they’re focused, they’re ready,” the coach said. “I’ve always said, ‘How you practise is how you play.’ And if you treat it like a joke, then obviously you aren’t going to have success (in games). But these kids don’t treat it like that.”
The team’s unsung hero, Quiring says, is his wife – physiotherapist Shelley Cowcill.
“She does a lot of things behind the scenes, bandaging them up and working on them, and making sure they’re ready to play,” he said. “It’s good to have her there, on our side.”
And while they don’t have strength in numbers, necessarily, Quiring is quick to point out his team has more high-end depth than most others – something that no doubt has led to the team’s success so far this season.
“The twins – I can’t stress enough – they are our foundation and our star players, but the other four (starters) are also high-level volleyball players,” the coach said. “We play a lot of teams with one or two really good players, but you can’t win with just one or two. You’ve got to have a full team, and I think that’s why we are successful, because we have six or seven well-rounded players and that makes us hard to play against.
“You’re being attacked from all different sides of the court.”
The team also doesn’t often play with a libero, which is a defence-only player who cannot block or attack the ball when it’s entirely above net height.
“Since Grade 8, one thing I’ve pushed is being an all-around good volleyball player. I don’t want any one person to be (one-dimensional) out there on the court.”
One area where Quiring thinks his group has an advantage – aside from a high skill level – is experience. In addition to the team’s provincial junior title in 2017 and last year’s B.C. senior banner, the majority of the team has experience at provincial and national club tournaments with South Surrey-based Seaside Volleyball, where Quiring also coaches.
“At the club level, the intensity is times two. When you go to nationals… there’s packed crowds, hostile environments, and we played some of the best teams in Canada,” the coach said. “So when you’ve had that experience, you get used to it. These boys know what it’s like to be down five points and not get stressed. They’ve been through a lot.”
With playoffs are on the horizon – South Fraser Valley playoffs are set for mid-November and provincial championships begin Nov. 26 in Langley – Quiring knows the health of his group will be key. Essentially, he admits, a single injury to a key player “is going to make it tough.”
“Knock on wood, it’ll come down to injuries,” he said.
This week, the team is in Kelowna for the Best of the West tournament, which features many of the province’s top teams. The tournament wraps up Saturday.