At the start of the season, Wayne Woyciehouski decided he wanted to be the top defensive middle blocker in B.C. college volleyball.
Right now, he's number one in all of Canada.
Woyciehouski, a Prince George product who plays for the Vancouver Island University Mariners, is leading the PACWEST Athletic Association and Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association in stuff blocks, with 62 to date. Within B.C., he's also ranked first in blocks per set at 1.15. He's likely leading the country in that category too but the CCAA doesn't keep that statistic.
Woyciehouski's chart-topping numbers stand out even more because of the fact he's only a second-year member of the Nanaimo-based Mariners.
"It's been going very, very well," said Woyciehouski, a 2012 graduate of College Heights secondary school.
"[I'm playing with] so much more speed and agility. Our coaches are just unbelievable with fitness and stuff and we got a new assistant coach this year who has played pro and junior national. He knows everything and has helped so much with just staying calm and finding the ball and closing the blocks."
The Mariners are led by head coach Abe Avender and assistant Drew Venables, who parlayed a university career into a professional stint in Denmark.
Along with his athleticism and technical skills, Woyciehouski is helped by the fact he's six-foot-five and has gravity-defying leaping abilities. When he goes airborne, he can reach on the north side of 11 feet.
The Mariners have played 54 sets so far this season and Woyciehouski has been on the floor for every one of them. It's unusual for a second-year player to get so much court time but the departure of two other middle blockers when Woyciehouski was a rookie worked in his favour.
Part way through Woyciehouski's freshman campaign, Fort St. John's Kyle Dupperon left the VIU squad. And, at the end of last year, Lee Hamilton graduated from the Mariners program and joined Canada's national B team. That left Woyciehouski as the go-to middle blocker for the current season.
At the beginning of the year, some pep talks from Avender and Venables prompted Woyciehouski to set some lofty goals and he now finds himself in rare air indeed.
"Leading all of Canada is a huge surprise but it feels really good," he said.
For Woyciehouski, stuffing an attempted kill shot is much more satisfying than hammering a kill of his own.
"It's the best feeling in volleyball," said the 19-year-old Woyciehouski, whose coaches in Prince George included Jay Guillet (College Heights), Jeremy Stavely, Dan Drezet and Dave Zapotichny (Prince George Youth Volleyball Club). "Everyone talks about volleyball being a momentum sport. You probably average 10 kills a match or whatever but getting a huge stuff block, that doesn't come as often. I'm averaging just over one per set so that one block per set just feels so good and the momentum shift is just so huge."
As a team, the Mariners struggled to a 1-5 record in their first six matches (including three five-set losses) but then found their groove. They now sit at 7-7, good for third place in the seven-team league.
VIU completed the 2013 portion of its schedule with a Nov. 30 victory against the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades and will get things going again Jan. 10 against the Douglas College Royals. Given the roll the Mariners have been on lately, Woyciehouski is anticipating a strong finish to the regular season and a successful playoff run.
"When we're not making errors, we're unstoppable," said Woyciehouski, a physical education student who is minoring in psychology. "I don't think we can be beaten in the league if we don't make errors but it's a mental thing. If we make errors, any team can take us in three.
"I definitely think it's possible to win the provincial championship -- maybe not a national championship -- but I'd like to medal at nationals for sure."
Last season, the Mariners were upset by the Capilano University Blues in the PACWEST final and went on to a fourth-place finish at the CCAA national tournament.