Dinos volleyball player Keith West talks success of last season
By Emilie Medland-Marchen, October 4 2016 —
After a stellar 2015–16 season as the definitive underdogs of the Dinos athletics department, the Dinos men’s volleyball team is hungry for more. Playing their way to the Canada West final four last season, the team narrowly missed out on a ticket to the CIS championships in a tight match against the Trinity Western Spartans. The Gauntlet sat down with talented outside hitter and team leader Keith West to discuss his experience last year, and how the team is set to go even farther this season.
The Gauntlet: Last season, you made it all the way to the Canada West finals. Head Coach Rod Durrant won the CIS Coach of the Year award. Can you tell me about that success and what it meant for you?
Keith West: Last year, it was a change for sure. In previous years, we had barely made playoffs or not made playoffs at all. Last year, entering playoffs as the third ranked team nationally [and] going in as a favourite — it was something to be absolutely proud of. It was a shame that we didn’t finish the season on a positive note, but it was absolutely something for us to build off of so that this year we can start on the right foot again and hopefully continue on through playoffs.
G: It was sort of a bittersweet end to the season in those last few matches against Trinity Western. What was it like playing for the Canada West title?
W: It’s funny how it’s still the same sport. It’s still the same game, but once you put a prize at the end it becomes a totally different feeling and a different experience altogether. We played Trinity three times prior to that quarterfinal matchup and all three of those games we had won. Heading into playoffs it was a similar strategy, but there was so much more emotion, so much more desire that was a factor in the match, the play style and everything. That definitely was the cause. Coming into next year, if we make the quarterfinals and if we’re in that position again, there certainly has to be a different outlook on how we control those emotions and how we respond to fire in the other team.
G: When you’re playing against a big opponent like Trinity Western, do you find that you’re more focused on the end goal, or are you more focused on the process and what you’re doing to get there?
W: Being focused on the process is something that we’ve always voiced and we’ve always held as something of very high importance. When we’re focused on winning or glory or something like that, obviously the game gets lost. And then you start to do the wrong thing. Focusing point by point is certainly the most important thing to us, but it’s a lot easier said than done. To be able to let go and forget about the outcome of a match and to solely focus on one point or one play is an incredibly difficult thing to do. So that is one of our mentalities this year, that we’re going to treat every match like it’s that quarterfinal, focus on how we’re going to win the next point, rather than how we’re going to win the next game in the regular season.
G: For you individually in a big game, how do you focus? What’s your personal approach to the game?
W: Growing up in a family of three boys —I have two older brothers — it’s kind of in my nature to be competitive. I’ve always wanted to be better than my brothers, always wanted to beat them up because they could always beat me up, you know? It’s always been my motivating factor— I want to win. I hate losing. And I want to do it again and again.
It’s special with a program like the U of C’s men’s volleyball team and all teams together in the CIS, you’ll have five years of eligibility. And there will be those players that you’ve played with for five years. And you spend all your time in the locker room with them, on the bus or in the plane, so these people become your family in a very metaphorical sense. One of the most special motivating factors is I’m out there competing with my family, with my brothers. Rather than just a get-together intramural volleyball league, these are people that I spend my life with.
G: Being a top level athlete takes so much commitment and it’s a commitment to excellence. What does that mean and what have you had to struggle with to get here?
W: There are sacrifices you have to make, because you can’t choose [social events] over your sport. When it comes to being a high performance athlete or achieving excellence. And also, the dedication to your health that you have to have, it’s to a whole other level. It’s not just going to the gym 30 minutes a day and eating healthily, it’s everything that you do has to have a purpose in improving your body, improving your health.
G: Is it worth it, playing for a team with that sense of community?
W: Yeah, it is such an incredible privilege. It’s taken me awhile to actually really know that. I’ve said it for a long time, but I’ve never actually experienced it. I think as student athletes, we can use this platform to grow the community. It’s great playing sports and studying, but I think there’s contributions that student athletes can make that are much greater than that, for example volunteering within Calgary [and] within our community. There are so many young, aspiring athletes that want to be, in a way, like us. To reach out to those communities, and show who you are [and] show the life of an athlete, it can go such a long ways to inspire the next generation, and help them achieve greater things.
Edited for clarity and brevity.