When you see the words 'world junior championship,' what do you think of?
Do you have visions of Boxing Day hockey games or Jordan Eberle scoring a last-second goal? How about match-ups between Canada and the U.S. or midnight games on New Year's Day?
For Brad Gunter, the world junior championship has had a different meaning for the past few years and for a guy who suited up for his country this summer, he sure has flown under the radar.
Gunter, a right side hitter for the WolfPack men's volleyball team at Thompson Rivers University, spent his summer competing for Canada at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) men's under-21 World Championship in Izmir and Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 - it's the world junior championship of volleyball.
It was an achievement that Gunter has been working towards for the past few years and it finally came to fruition in June.
"It was amazing," the Courtenay native said Wednesday. "It was great coaching, great program, the facilities we played in were really nice. It was awesome playing in Turkey and getting to see that country."
Gunter tried out in May for the second time, after being cut at the 2012 tryouts. He said getting cut left him "rattled"- he was pretty confident in his chances heading into the tryout and had expected to make the team. But rattled transformed into determination and he came back to Kamloops determined not to let it happen again.
The following summer, he was practising with Canada in preparation of competing in the August tournament.
"It was definitely a goal of mine," Gunter said. "I've had it set for a couple years now."
And when he arrived in Turkey he didn't just compete, he thrived. Gunter was second in scoring on the Canadian team that finished third in its pool, behind Serbia and the United States, but ahead of Tunisia and Rwanda. He had 58 kills, eight block points and five service points for a total of 71. Gunter finished seven behind Stephan Maar of McMaster University, who finished with a team-high 78. Gunter was 44th of 207 athletes competing.
"It caught me off guard a little bit that I was still starting and being the go-to guy - well, the second highest scorer," Gunter said. "Playing against the international players, putting myself up against the really good players on other teams, I felt like I could compete with them."
Canada played four matches within its pool, beating Tunisia and Rwanda, but losing to Serbia and the U.S. It then lost in a round-of-16 playoff match against France in five sets (22-25, 25-21, 25-15, 23-25, 15-10), and moved into the 9-16 bracket. Canada defeated Mexico and moved into the 9-12 bracket.
After losses to the U.S. and Japan, Canada finished at the bottom of that bracket, 12th out of the 20 teams.
For Gunter, the most surreal part wasn't a moment in one of the meaningful tournament matches (though those were memorable, playing in front of fans, and in the stadium, in Turkey), but during a pre-tournament match.
"We played a couple exhibition matches before the actual tournament and we actually ended up beating the team that came first (Russia) in an amazing five-set game," he said. "It was crazy, I wish we could have played like that the whole tournament."
Now, entering his third season of eligibility with the WolfPack, he's hoping to build on those skills and that experience. After all, there's a Canadian B team for university athletes he'd like to make and eventually he hopes to try out for, and play with, the Canadian senior team.
And there's a good chance he'll do it, too. Gunter's performance on the international stage may have caught him off guard, but for TRU head coach Pat Hennelly, it was no surprise. He was at the Canadian team's tryouts when Gunter was there and he saw that his athlete was one of the better players. Now, it's translating to his play with the WolfPack.
"When he played against Trinity (Western last week) I just turned to someone and said 'He could be the best player we've every had,' and we've already had great players, two of them are already playing on their senior national teams." Hennelly said.
"I think his confidence is higher, I think his shot-making ability is better and I think his serve is harder and more consistent. So I think every part of his game is polished up a little bit and of course he gained confidence - he got to start for his national team at a world championship, I think that's going to give you confidence."
What might also be giving him confidence is the praise and attention he's getting from the volleyball community. Jason Haldane, a player agent with Global JH Sports Management, 12-year national team player for Great Britain, 2012 Olympian and 18-year pro, was at the WolfPack's practice Wednesday and watched Gunter at the world junior championship in Turkey.
"He has all the tools, he has the physical ability and he has the work ethic," Haldane said. "I'm impressed with him and I think he has the abilities to get to the high levels, he just needs to learn to be more of a killer all the time.
"Right now, I don't see anybody in that position better than Brad in the country."
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Gunter and his teammates will play host to a tournament this weekend, with the Guelph Gryphons, UBC Thunderbirds and UBC-Okanagan Heat coming into town.
TRU will play Guelph today, 7 p.m., at the Tournament Capital Centre. On Friday, it will play UBC at 7 p.m., before finishing the weekend against UBC-Okanagan on Sunday at 1 p.m.
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The WolfPack soccer teams are back at it this weekend and will play host to the Douglas Royals and the Kwantlen Eagles.
The women, who are 8-0-2, will play the Royals on Saturday and the Eagles on Sunday, noon, at Hillside Stadium.
The men will also be home to Douglas and Kwantlen, with both games kicking off at 2 p.m. TRU will also play on Monday, 2:30 p.m., against the visiting Capilano Blues, in a make-up game for a match that was postponed due to poor field conditions last month.
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Brent Pound of the WolfPack golf team will be heading to Ste-Sophie, Que., for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association's national championships next week.
Pound was also named a Pacific Western Athletic Association all-star this week.
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The TRU hockey team is headed to Burnaby on Saturday to face the Simon Fraser Clan, looking to win its first game in more than a year against SFU.
TRU is 2-1 early in the B.C. Intercollegiate league season.
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The WolfPack men's basketball team is headed to Vancouver to kick off its preseason in an exhibition tournament at UBC.
The tournament will feature teams from Concordia University of Portland, the University of Victoria, Wilfred Laurier and Concordia University of Montreal.
The men will face Concordia University of Montreal on Friday, and Concordia Univeristity of Portland on Satuday.
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The WolfPack women's basketball team will play host to its own tourney this weekend, with UNBC, UBC-Okanagan and Trinity Western in town.
The round-robin tourney will kick off Friday for the 'Pack, 5 p.m., against UBC-Okanagan, before it faces Trinity Western on Saturday, 6 p.m. TRU will cap the weekend off with a Sunday match against UNBC, 11 a.m.
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The Okanagan Athletics will visit Norbrock Stadium on Saturday and Sunday for four games against the WolfPack baseball team.
Each day's doubleheader is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.