Keith Lundgren's first rebuild of the TRU WolfPack women's volleyball team went so well, he's doing it all over again.
Lundgren will open his third Canada West season as the WolfPack's head coach when the UBC-Okanagan Heat visits the Tournament Capital Centre on Friday. TRU and UBC-O will play a rematch in Kelowna on Saturday.
The WolfPack is coming off a breakthrough season, in which it went 9-11 and qualified for the Canada West playoffs for the first time. Although TRU lost a first-round playoff series to the U of Alberta Pandas, who went on to finish second in the CIS, it was a banner season for the program.
But aside from the name "WolfPack," the head coach and select few players, the 2011-12 team bears no resemblance to the 2012-13 team.
TRU has four returning players, two of whom played significant sets last season. And, to complicate matters further for Lundgren, two of his returnees - second-year outside hitters Brianne Rauch (knee) and Morgan Kolasa (shoulder) - are injured and won't play early in the season.
Add it all up, and it could be a long campaign for Lundgren and the WolfPack.
"I hate losing. I absolutely hate it," Lundgren said. "At the same time, it takes time to develop. It takes time to develop skill. We have to remember that and be patient with the kids."
Lundgren appears ready to live up to that.
"It's different this year - last season, it was the fifth-years' (last) years, and the goal for two years was to get the program to the playoffs," he said. "We're just developing skill this year. We're really taking our time, teaching the kids the competitiveness we need on a daily basis and how methodical we have to be in practice."
The words sound similar to what Lundgren was saying in his first season as WolfPack head coach, when he often preached about effort and gaining experience, and how those things would make his team better.
Although they seemed dubious when his team was going 2-16 in 2010-11, Lundgren sounded like a genius when the WolfPack enjoyed unprecedented success last season. A program that had for years struggled to win sets was winning matches, and all was well.
But of the WolfPack's most called upon players (in terms of sets played), five are gone.
Two of those players - outside hitters Kelly Asleson and Amanda Frayne - graduated, while setter Kara Twomey returned home to Winnipeg for family reasons. The other two - libero Sara Pettersson and outside hitter Anne Weiss - are gone, but Lundgren would only offer a "no comment" when asked if they departed on their own.
That leaves the injured Kolasa and Rauch, outside hitter Carly Nelson and middle Katarina Osadchuk to lead a squad featuring six rookies.
But a lack of experience, Osadchuk said, also means an abundance of excitement.
"We're a young team, and with that comes a lot of fire and willingness to compete," said the third-year Australian. "It's really difficult to say where we stand right now . . . but I have good hopes for where the team is going to go this season."
Osadchuk, who stands 6-foot-3, is an excellent player around whom to build a program.
She enjoyed an impressive second season with the WolfPack, setting a conference record of 14 blocks in a victory over the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies on Jan. 27, and posting the third-highest number of blocks (101) in Canada West history. She also was one of TRU's most effective attackers and setters.
In this rebuild, Osadchuk is the foundation.
"In order for us to win, I think, she has to have a great match," Lundgren said. "She's very physical, she can block well, she gets high. She'll have to play well every night."
Whether Lundgren has the rest of the pieces in place remains to be seen, but he's excited to get the season - and the rebuild - officially started.
"One thing we did with (Osadchuk) when she got here, she just played all the time, and now she's doing very well for us," he said. "That's a positive thing - you can't beat experience.
"This weekend will be a great learning experience because they're going to be nervous, they're going to be excited and maybe that will be enough."
SIDE OUTS: Friday's match is scheduled for 6 p.m. . . . Rauch is considered out "indefinitely" after a preseason injury, while Kolasa had shoulder surgery and isn't expected back until the second half. . . . The Canada West preseason coaches' poll has the WolfPack ranked last in the 12-team conference. . . . With the addition of the Calgary-based Mount Royal Cougars, who moved up from the college ranks, all Canada West teams will play 22 matches. . . . The regular season actually opens tonight, with the Manitoba Bisons heading across town to take on the Winnipeg Wesmen. . . . TRU will play the Bobcats in Brandon on Nov. 2-3.
Friday: WolfPack men's volleyball team.
Coaches: Keith Lundgren (head coach, third year); Hayley Hills (assistant, second year); Megann Rodhe (strength/conditioning, second year).
Last season: (9-11, lost in first round of playoffs).
Key returning players: M Katarina Osadchuk (third year, Australia); OH Brianne Rauch (second year, Kimberley, B.C.).
Key departures: OH Amanda Frayne (graduation); OH Kelly Asleson (graduation); S Kara Twomey (personal); L Sara Pettersson (undisclosed); OH Anne Weiss (undisclosed).
Key additions: S Katie Woo (Surrey); M Julia Niemczewska (Calgary); Oh Rachel Murray (Edmonton).