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Figuring out the Fanshawe Falcons men’s volleyball team

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. Courtesy of Fanshawe Falcons

If you want to confuse somebody, show them something they have never seen before.

The first person to buy a Rubik’s Cube didn’t quite have it solved in the world record time of 4.59 seconds.

(That was accomplished by SeungBeom Cho of South Korea in 2017.)

The Fanshawe Falcons men’s volleyball team has been the equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube for each of their opponents this season and they are now set to face the best of the best that the province of Ontario has to offer as the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) championship begins in Barrie.

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The Falcons have not lost this year. They were a perfect 18-0 in the regular season, marking the first time a Fanshawe team had accomplished that feat. Their overall winning streak now stretches back to November of 2016 and stands at 32 matches.

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Their secret sounds simple when it is described by their fifth-year head coach, Patrick Johnson.

“[We are] unique in that we have one middle on the court and four outside [hitters].”

Now, that isn’t taking exactly taking a Rubik’s Cube and turning it into a Rubik’s Sphere, but when you add in the skill and experience of the players doing that hitting, Fanshawe has been unstoppable so far.

Johnson did what many good coaches do. He took stock of his roster and knew he had four players who could play either one of the outside positions. But, that would mean only two of them could play at a time and that wasn’t maximizing everyone’s talents. That’s when the proverbial lightbulb went off and the two-time Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) coach of the year decided to try something.

“Just looking at our personnel, we had a couple of University transfer athletes come in,” says Johnson. “I’d seen a team out in B.C. use [this system] a few years back. I just wanted to find a way to get all four of those guys on the court at the same time.”

The skill and ability of the team have allowed Johnson to implement a few more wrinkles and the overall game plans have kept everyone engaged and focussed.

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“The guys have had a lot of fun with a more creative system that has allowed for contributions from all kinds of players.”

This week they finally moved from No. 2 to No. 1 in the national college rankings.

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The Falcons find themselves as the favourites as they enter the Ontario championship, especially after proving themselves against the Humber Hawks in their final regular season match. Humber was on a 14-match winning streak and Fanshawe swept them three sets to none, although it was a little more difficult than the final score read. The second set went to 41-39 before the Falcons took it and still has Johnson shaking his head when he thinks back to it.

That’s the longest match I’ve ever played in, that’s for sure,” he admits. “I just get out of the way. When they are playing that well, just let them continue to execute. At about 33 or 34 each it seemed as though there wasn’t a score anymore. Whoever was serving knew the other team was going to get a kill on their first swing. The teams were so locked in offensively that there was nothing either team’s defence could do.”

It’s those kinds of experiences and successes that teams can reflect back on when their next challenges feel tough, but Johnson feels the Falcons can go even deeper than that.

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“We’ve got a bit of an older crew with a lot of Team Ontario and Team Canada players that have a lot of experience at the next level. We’d finish matches [this year] and even if they were a 3-0 win, the players were hungry to find ways to get a little bit better and improve our numbers.”

Their goal from the start has been a provincial championship and a shot at returning to the Canadian College Athletic Association Championship in Victoria, British Columbia.

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Getting there will not be easy. They will encounter other teams who may act a little like a Rubik’s Cube themselves, but until someone proves they can solve what Fanshawe puts on the floor, the Falcons will remain the team to beat.

OCAA quarter-final match:

Fanshawe vs Fleming – Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 – 3 p.m.

Notes:

Cole Jordan of the Falcons has been named OCAA player of the year. Jordan is the first Falcon to win the award. He led Fanshawe with 4.8 points per set this season. The London native was also named a West Division first-team all-star.

Sam Otten (Ilderton) and Mike Liscumb (Delaware) of the Falcons were named West Division second-team all-stars.