Bisons men’s volleyball coaches Arnd ‘Lupo’ Ludwig and Mike Stephens will be busy this summer, after being given the honor of coaching Canada’s men’s U21 national team, alongside Sean McKay from Saskatchewan. The squad will play in the NORCECA Championship, as well as the FIVB U21 World Championship.
Ludwig, who previously led Canada’s women’s national team for eight years, assumes head coaching duties, while Stephens is one of the assistants. It’s a full-circle moment for the pair, who played in the same tournament 36 years ago, with Ludwig competing for Germany and Stephens for Canada.
“To go back to worlds and coach in the same tournament that you played in, things have come full circle. How can you not do it,” said Stephens.
“Representing the country is always cool. That was easy in that regard, but time away from home was the part I had to deal with. I talked to my wife about it and she was, as always, supportive. It was an easy decision.”
Stephens isn’t far removed from the U21 scene, after being an assistant coach on Ben Josephson’s staff last year, where Canada went 3-0 in group B of the NORCECA Pan American Cup in Cuba, on route to a bronze medal finish.
Canada, which featured two Manitobans in Dylan Martens and John Obi, defeated Nicaragua, Haiti and host Cuba in the preliminary round, and knocked off the Cubans once more in the bronze medal match in a thrilling 3-2 finish.
“I think our tactics are going to be on point. I’m not concerned about that. I’m not really concerned about anything. I think our mindset will be good, being in the last cycle in September and October of last year was a really good experience, just to see the growth with these guys,” reflected Stephens.
“Beating Cuba three times in that tournament is unheard of. The guys were very successful. We had one poor match really, the semi-final, and that I think the grandeur of it all just kind of got to the guys, but it was a learning experience, because I’m sure some of those guys will be on this team, and they can take that experience and move it forward.”
Potential prospects sent in video submissions during March. There were 73 applications, with 27 players moving on for selection camp in Gatineau, Quebec. That group will practice from May 22-26, with 14-16 athletes being picked for training camp starting on May 27.
While Ludwig and company will have a say on the final roster, the eventual decision will be made by National Excellence Program Head Coach and former Bisons national champ Dan Lewis.
“The next step is evaluating how we want to set up the training camp. That’s what Dan [Lewis] and I are doing right now. We have our first practice on the Monday afternoon and then Sunday afternoon or evening we will meet as coaches,” said Ludwig.
“I’m already starting to prepare the practices for after selection camp. We have one week of practices and then we go to Cuba. We had a zoom meeting with all the guys where we went through things. There’s consistent communication with the integrated support team there, the strength and conditioning coaches.”
A total of 12 athletes will travel for competitions, with the NORCECA Championship being played in Cuba from June 1-11, and the FIVB U21 World Championship in Bahrain from July 5-16. The top two teams in each pool at the U21 World Championship will advance. Canada will face powerhouses Poland and Bulgaria along the way.
“It’s definitely coming early, but for us it’s good because we already have a tournament before we go to the world championships,” added Ludwig.
“We’ll play important and meaningful games, and we’ll see what we have to work on for the next two weeks leading into the next tournament. There’s not a lot of skill work possible, so we’ll go right away into the team connection, the hitter-setter relationship and all these things. The skill has to be practiced on the side a little bit and in the form of competition drills.”
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