By Zachary Flynn
“They’re just all in. This has been the most fun I’ve had so far since I’ve been at NAIT and it’s just a group that’s willing to go as hard as they can and want to learn,” said women’s volleyball head coach Benj Heinrichs.
Continual development and the drive to learn and grow is something that resonates with Heinrichs, who is a certified primal health coach.
“I spend my whole life looking at how to create optimal learning environments, looking at how the brain’s wired to learn,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed working out and learning how the body functions and it just evolved into what our DNA is saying about how we can optimally live. We’re still hunter-gatherers by DNA but we’re not in that kind of world now. It’s not about going back to that, but it’s about what our DNA is saying abut how we eat, how we sleep, how we rest, how we move and all those things.”
Heinrichs likes to keep his standards “uncomfortably high” as he likes to say. These standards, he says, are meant to push his athletes to be the best they can be.
“We’re conditioned to play it safe and our brain doesn’t like fear,” said Heinrichs. “Magic is on the other side of fear so let’s push through that and let’s walk through the door. We’re going to feel it, it’s not like fear doesn’t disappear. I’ve always had coaches say: ‘Oh don’t be scared, don’t worry about it.’ But that’s not how emotions work. When they come, recognize it. If you’re uncomfortable, go: ‘Oh yeah. This is where I need to be, this is where learning happens.’”
Heinrichs sees himself as more than just a volleyball coach. He hopes to pass on better lifestyle choices to his athletes, holds them to academic standards and puts wellness first.
“To me, priority number one is how you’re doing as a human,” said Heinrichs. “What’s your wellness like? How do you feel? And then second, if they’re doing that well, then they’ve got a better chance at doing well on the court playing volleyball and having fun doing it.”
Fourth-year player, Victoria Ringuette describes herself as a hard worker and managed to find a way to add one more bit of craziness to her life this year. The business student is not only managing to balance her course load with her athletics commitment, but has also started working for PCL Construction this year.
“It’s really busy, but I find that everything comes back to volleyball,” said Ringuette. “It’s hard but it’s so worth it. It’s making me a better person, it’s helping me develop as an individual as much as it’s helping me be a better team player. It’s tough but it is so worth it in the end.”
When it comes to volleyball, Ringuette appreciates the commitment and dedication it takes to build skill in the sport.
“I like the idea that it’s hard,” said Ringuette. “It’s a very technical sport and you can’t just be good at it overnight, It takes practice and I love that about it. Every day you can get better. You can always learn more.”
The outside hitter spent two years at Olds College before transferring to NAIT. Ringuette has spent her entire collegiate career playing in the outside position and says she enjoys the variety in the role.
“I like the idea that I get to do a little bit of everything,” said Ringuette. “I have to pass, I have to play defence, I get to rip on some balls, you get to block still. You don’t get to set as much but that’s probably for the best in my case. It’s a good balance of everything.”
Ringuette is currently working towards getting her Chartered Professional in Human Resources designation and hopes to come back for a fifth year with the Ooks.
After spending time in Manitoba filming other athletes, helping them put together demo tapes for their own college applications, Mia Hildebrandt is excited for her first season with the Ooks and making some of her own highlights.
“I am pumped to play our first league game. Things are intense now but I feel like once it counts for real, that’s when I get going,” said Hildebrandt.
The Manitoba native is in the Radio and Television program with a passion for sports broadcasting. She has plenty of experience behind the lens–shooting sports for other athletes back home–but isn’t sure whether or not she wants to be in front of the camera.
“I’ve always struggled with that because I really like using my camera, but I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to be in front of the camera yet. So I guess we’ll see,” said Hildebrandt. “I love taking pictures and video. A lot of it happens to be sports, but I love using my camera and creating things with that.”
Hildebrandt was a multi-sport athlete growing up, opting to pick volleyball over soccer and basketball, which she also played in Manitoba.
“I didn’t like basketball because I didn’t like sweaty people I didn’t know touching me and all my friends at home played volleyball so it made sense to play the sport with the friends that I loved.”
One of her favourite parts of volleyball is the energy and opportunities to celebrate with her team.
“I love volleyball because you have the chance to celebrate so much within a match,” said Hildebrandt. “With basketball and soccer, there’s the odd time to do that but with volleyball, it’s every point that you get to come together and I love celebrating other people’s victories on the court.”
Headshots provided by NAIT Athletics