Brian Plett teaches history, biblical studies and physical education at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, but when he’s coaching volleyball he’s more like a mad scientist.
Plett led the school’s varsity boys to the AAAA provincial championship for the sixth time in his tenure with a straight-set win over Selkirk on Nov. 26.
And he did it with a strategy that hasn’t been employed in Manitoba in more than 30 years.
Blessed with a talent-laden roster, Plett had to figure out a way to get his four big-hitting outside players on the court at the same time.
The solution was to have his 6-foot-6 setter, Adam Schriemer, playing the middle position.
"Other coaches commented that they haven’t seen something like that for a long time," Plett said, comparing Schriemer’s unusual skill-set to Magic Johnson playing point guard at 6-foot-9.
"We didn’t have him attacking, just setting from the middle position. It took us a while to develop that system. Once we did, it developed a lot of synchronization and interesting things we could do out of that rotation."
Schriemer was excited from the start of the season about the new possibilities.
"It was interesting," said the Grade 12 student from North Kildonan. "I didn’t really know what to think of it, but I was excited to see how it worked in practice."
Instead of blocking from the setter and right side positions, Schriemer was now being asked to block from the middle. That meant staving off attacks from all directions.
"It was not easy at the start," he said. "It’s a lot more tiring; a lot more hard work. The first drill, I couldn’t even finish it I was so tired."
One thing that Schriemer and his Hawks teammates never had was doubt.
"We all know (Plett’s) a really smart volleyball mind. We always trusted in him," Schriemer said.
The Hawks had some ups and downs in the early part of the season, but started playing their best volleyball as the playoffs approached. They won a tournament in Selkirk and their own event before rolling through the KPAC playoffs with wins over highly-ranked Miles Macdonell and Selkirk squads.
"I thought that was a pretty solid run, and an indication that things were starting to come together," Plett said.
Schriemer, whose brother, Matt, won a provincial championship with Miles Mac in 2008, said the team made steady progress throughout the season, gaining momentum down the stretch.
"It was exciting, knowing how close we were to doing it," he said. "It was good to see how well the team played at the end of the year. We hit our peak at the time we were supposed to."
Schriemer isn’t the only Hawk being recruited by university volleyball programs. Plett expects four or five of his players to be competing at the post-secondary level next season.