Varsity Spirit Gets Big Boost Following National Championships

by Brian Cross

Athletic accolades continue to roll in for the University of Saskatchewan. Fresh off the Huskies Vanier Cup victory at the 1998 CIAU football championships last November, the U of S Huskie men's volleyball team claimed it's first national volleyball title in 11 years, defeating the Laval Rouge et Or earlier this month.

The Huskies captured the national volleyball title March 1 at the CIAU finals in Laval, Que.

The Huskies' volleyball victory marks the second CIAU championship title in less than a year for the university and promises to make 1998-99 one of the school's most memorable in terms of athletic achievement.

The Huskies' dream season began last fall when the U of S football team led by head coach Brian Towriss captured the Canada West football crown and then advanced to the Vanier Cup championship with a win over Western Mustangs at the 1998 Churchill Bowl.

The Huskies, no stranger to the national football final, appeared in the Vanier Cup game on four different occasions in the previous 10 years, having claimed the national title in 1989 and again in 1996.

At the championship game in Toronto, the Concordia Stingers held the Huskies offence in check for much of the game and then gained possession of the football late in the contest with the score tied 17-17.

But with two minutes left on the clock, the Huskies defence swarmed through Concordia's offensive line, forced a fumble and recovered the football in the Stingers' end zone to score the winning touchdown.

The fumble recovery capped an incredible season for the Dogs and resulted in a 24-17 U of S victory - a win that will go down in history as one of the most exciting Vanier Cup finishes ever, said linebacker Trevor Ludtke, one of seven graduating players on the championship team." This was the only way that any of us wanted to end our college football career," said Ludtke, whose fumble recovery sealed the Huskies victory. "It makes it a lot easier to walk away from football, or at least from your college career, when you go out with a national championship."

With the Huskies national football title in the books, the recent CIAU volleyball title certainly solidified this season as one of the most successful in the modern era of varsity athletics at the U of S.

The Huskies last won a national volleyball title in 1987-88 and, this year, entered competition with a talented squad, anchored by fifth-year player Mark Paslawski. Mark Zacharias, Josh Janzen, Aaron Canfield, team captain Brock Pavier, Chris Bildfell and newcomer Reid Bilben.

The Huskies advanced to the national final by defeating the defending national champions - the Winnipeg Wesmen - then knocked off the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears from Edmonton. In the final, the Huskies rolled over hometown Laval in straight games, defeating the Rouge et Or 3-0.

For the Huskie volleyball team, this year's championship title was particularly rewarding given the team's heart-wrenching loss to Winnipeg in last year's national final.

"We stated a couple of times after losing to Winnipeg last year that sometimes you have to lose the big one before you learn how to win," said Huskie coach Brian Gavlas, a player on the Huskie team that won the university's last CIAU volleyball crown back in 1988.

"I think winning as a player and winning as a coach are basically quite similar in terms of the hard work and dedication that goes into building a championship team."

"When I came in as head coach, we certainly weren't a powerhouse and in fact we only had two wins in the first year. But we worked hard and we've rebuilt the program since then and we've basically been ranked (in the top-four) for the past five years."

Gavlas, now in his seventh year as head coach of Huskie volleyball, says leadership and dedication among the players as well as a strong nucleus of talent on the court were the keys to this year's victory.

He's also encouraged by the increasing fan support that's been building behind the team - an indication that school spirit continues to grow at the university. "I certainly like to think that a national championship (helps build to school spirit)," Gavlas said. "Our attendance (at Huskie games) has been increasing over the past few years and I think that's because we've established a winning tradition." University of Saskatchewan president George Ivany says the achievements of Huskie athletes are not only a tribute to the university's athletic programs but have also helped to raise the university's profile on the national stage.

In addition to assisting recruiting efforts, the university's national CIAU titles has also strengthened the university's alumni organization and has helped in renewing ties with thousands of former U of S students, now living throughout the country. "I think having a winning tradition throughout the decade has made (our efforts) much easier," said Ivany following the school's Vanier Cup victory.

"In the early years, particularly in 1989, 90 and 91, I followed the football team everywhere across Western Canada and held alumni brunches and parties around the football games. It started out so well and it just built and built from there, so in many ways, I think the whole alumni tradition has really been galvanized by our athletic programs."