Adding some international flavour

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Australian Matt Hender prepares for first season with Cougars men’s volleyball team

Jonathan Hamelin
Sports Editor

The Saskatchewan weather hasn’t gotten to Matt Hender yet.

“I don’t really mind the cold,” the 19-year-old said. “Maybe ask me this question in a couple of weeks.”

Regardless of the weather, one of the newest members of the University of Regina Cougars men’s volleyball team feels he made the right decision making the jump from Australia to Regina.

He’ll make his Canada West debut this weekend, as the Cougars travel to Manitoba for a game against the Bisons on Friday and Saturday after posting a preseason record of 4-8.

“I was looking to study and play at the same time and Canada and America were the top priorities for me,” the faculty of kinesiology and health studies student explained. “There were a few other universities that were interested in getting me, but I got the best scholarship offer here.”

Though he is listed as a rookie with the Cougars, the 6-3, 175-pound setter brings a wealth of experience to the team. Born in Perth, Australia, Hender has been playing volleyball since high school. He has also played club volleyball in Perth, spent the last three years with the University of Western Australia Volleyball Club and has also been on a trial period with a club team in Sweden.

“[Matt’s] got a good recognition of the flow of the game,” offered Cougars head coach Greg Barthel, who expressed interest in obtaining Hender’s services. “He knows when to run certain things and when not to. We look to him to come in and play well like everyone else.”

Clearly, there won’t be a huge learning curve for Hender in Regina when it comes to volleyball. Getting used to being away from home has been a much tougher task.

“I like the independence, but I’m close to my sister and my parents so it’s tough,” Hender noted. “It’s an independent lifestyle – cooking for yourself and cleaning.”

Making new friends has helped Hender maximize his experience so far.

“I’m living with four of the guys and we carpool together,” Hender explained. “They’re all not from Regina so we’re all in the same boat. My teammates have taught me the way of life in Regina in general.

“I really like the university here. It’s quite compact – not a massive type of university. Most of my classes are in the kinesiology building as well which helps.”

The addition of Hender strengthens a Cougars team that has had its share of struggles of the last couple of seasons. Over the last two seasons, Regina has posted a record of 2-34. They went winless last season.

“It’s hard to say,” Barthel offered when asked about the team’s struggles. “We’ve had a fairly a young team. If you look at last year, we also had some significant injuries to some pretty significant players.”

If Regina wants to improve this season, veteran players like Lindsey Isaak, Kelly D'Autremont, Joel Colter, Leon Dyck, Drew Smith, Jamie Wilkins, and Brody Waddell will need to step up. Hender will be looked upon as well, especially if he earns a starting role this season. He has been battling for the setter position with Caleb Eschbach, one of the players Hender is living with.

According to Hender, it’s been friendly competition.

“We’ve been working hard together trying to learn off each other,” Hender noted of himself and Caleb. “I hope to start. It’s totally fine if I have to spend time on the bench. Calib is a second year, so he’s obviously got more experience in the CIS than me.”

“Every year is a new year and you go into it with big hopes,” said Barthel. “Moral is high and we’ve got some confidence. We want to make the playoffs.”

Hender certainly hopes to help turn the Cougars into winners.

“I want to bring some experience and leadership that maybe these younger guys don’t have,” he said. “Most of the guys looked to me in tough situations during the preseason. It’s taken some time for all of us to come together as a team, but I think we’re hitting our climax at the right time.”

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