Mission products and former UBC Thunderbirds volleyball players Mike Rockwell, John Baylis, Bill Clark and Joe Sigfusson at the Volleyball BC HOF dinner in February. The four players and their teammates were honoured at the event.

Mission foursome recognized as pioneers

UBC Thunderbirds’ 1966-67 team, featuring four locals, enters Volleyball BC HOF

There’s a big piece of Mission folklore on one of the most significant volleyball teams in the history of the province.

The 1966-67 UBC Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team, who were inducted into the Volleyball BC Hall of Fame in February, featured four Mission talents – all of whom played a role in the legacy of the championship team.

Mission products Bill Clark, John Baylis, Joe Sigfusson and Mike Rockwell all grew up playing the game locally and were all on the Mission Secondary senior boys volleyball team that won the B.C. High School Championship in 1964. It was from that chemistry on the Roadrunners that the early seeds of that Hall of Fame team were grown.

“Mike Rockwell was a year younger than us but when I went to university I didn’t play volleyball till my second year at school,” Clark recalled, of the 1966-67 UBC team. “That was the year we all came together.”

The Thunderbirds finished the 1967 season winning the first-ever CIAU (now U Sports) National title, the Western Canadian Intercollegiate title, the national junior title, a bronze medal at the Canadian Men’s National Open and a sixth-place finish at the World University Games in Tokyo.

It was from that trip to Tokyo that the team helped change the game in Canada.

After watching the Japanese team play a different attacking style and setup, UBC head coach Eric Lessman adopted many of their tactics and successfully implemented them into his game plan.

The most notable was the switch from the 4-2 to the 5-1 system. It featured just one setter as opposed to two, and allowed teams to vary up the offence much more.

“That whole trip to Japan was a real eye-opener,” Clark said. “We saw a whole new system of volleyball, and the Japanese team that won the tournament playing like that was unbelievable. All five offensive players were spikers in their system and it allowed you to switch up the offence and use different set-ups. It was pretty exciting to watch, and we became one of the first teams to play like that in North America. It was very fast-paced and explosive, but also fun to play in.”

The 1967 run spelled the end for the Mission foursome, as Clark decided to hang up his volleyball shoes at the end of the year.

“I figured it wasn’t going to get much better than what we did that year,” he said, chuckling.

The quartet still has a connection to B.C., as Clark lives in Mission, Sigfusson resides in Abbotsford, Baylis lives in Maple Ridge and Rockwell calls Read Island home.

Rockwell, the most talented of the Mission group, was part of Canada’s national team program from 1967 to 1972 and wore the maple leaf at two more World Student Games (1969 and 1971).

He went on to become a coach who excelled at all levels, leading teams at the high school and club level in B.C., as well as at McGill University and UBC, where he headed the varsity team for the 1978-79 season.

Rockwell also served as an assistant coach with the national women’s team program. He stayed in the volleyball world, becoming a very well-regarded referee for both indoor and outdoor volleyball, entering the Volleyball BC Hall of Fame as an official in 2015.

The 1966-67 team was also inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. Clark said that even more than 50 years later it’s nice to be recognized.

“It’s always neat to get together as a team,” he said. “And the honour this time really came out of the blue. It was just a really great experience for all of us.”

For more on the ceremony, visit volleyballbc.org/2018-hall-of-fame.

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