U of T is well-known for its high standards when it comes to students, faculty, and facilities. However, it is rare for any university to employ the likes of such a multi-talented man as Orest Stanko.
Since 1982, Stanko has coached Varsity Blues men’s volleyball-heading a team that keeps churning out Ontario University Association (OUA) championships. Not even a week ago, Stanko led the Blues to a 2-0 sweep of York in a best-of-three finals to claim the 2003-2004 title.
Under Stanko’s leadership the Blues have achieved a level of success unsurpassed by any other school in the province. Now, after 22 years at the helm, Stanko is calling it quits.
“I think the biggest reason that [the University of] Toronto keeps winning OUA Championships is a confidence thing,” says Myroslav Chwaluk, a libero for the team in his third year of an Arts & Science degree. “Orest is a real player’s coach. He does the best he can to let his players know that he has confidence in them, which is a really important part of playing well.”
Four-time OUA All-star and 2002-2003 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) All-Canadian Marc Arsenau claims that it is the team mentality that Stanko instills in his players that allows them to continue winning. “Orest’s teams have always been successful because he makes his teams play like teams. Even when his teams are underdogs they win because they are better ‘teams.’ In short, he is just better than other coaches in the league.”
The track record that Stanko has compiled speaks for itself. He has led the Blues to 13 OUA titles in his 22 years guiding the team, including eight of the last 10 seasons. That is by far the most of any other OUA school. In addition to the championships, Stanko has been named OUA East Division Coach of the Year seven times. He has also enjoyed a career as a coach and commentator for various beach volleyball events across North America.
Players know Stanko to be a very accessible man. He wants his teams to spend as much time together on and off the court as possible, including breaks from volleyball to kick back and enjoy a night out at the pub.
“He certainly helps team unity when, after good games and practices, he takes us all to Rower’s Bar and Grill,” says first year setter James Mackay. “I know I will miss his generosity.”
Time spent off the court does wonders for team unity, according to members of the team. “He is great at getting the team to bond, making everyone feel included even when they aren’t necessarily playing on the court. A lot of that is just time the team spends together, after games,” says Chwaluk. “Orest has no kids, but with the kind of generosity he has, it often feels like we’re his kids.”
Stanko’s sense of humour and his passion for the sport are legendary among members and alumni of the volleyball team. “I will remember his odd sense of humour and how much he cares for his athletes” comments Mackay.
Chwaluk agrees. “He was always ready with a joke, always ready to share in or start some laughter, but always ready and raring to go when it came down to it. Even after 22 seasons you can still hear the passion in his voice for the game, for our team, and for the win. When we have trouble in games he can chew us out a bit, but that’s because it’s really important to him to do well and for us to give it our all.”
U of T will be losing a loved, respected, and wildly successful coach when Stanko retires. For Mackay, Chwaluk, and the others, the school is losing a leader and a mentor. “Orest is a special individual,” says Arseneau, who played under Stanko for his entire university volleyball career. “He has charisma, passion, and dedication. Hands down the best coach I ever had.”