The 2014-15 season was more than a little disappointing for the RDC Kings volleyball squad.
Not only did they lose in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final to the Augustana Vikings, but they finished fifth at the nationals.
Looking back on it, Kings head coach Aaron Schulha feels last year’s frustration may benefit this year’s edition of the Kings.
“Being a couple of points short in both the conference and nationals makes for a hungry group,” said Schulha, who has 10 returnees to go with five newcomers, including three with post-secondary experience.
“We have a strong core back … a different group than last year, when we had more turnover. It’s nice to have the bulk of the team back.”
The biggest loss is All-Canadian Tim Finnigan, but four starters do return, including outstanding setter Luke Brisbane, middle Adam Turlejski, right side Nic Dubinsky and power hitter Regan Fathers. Both Dubinsky and Fathers joined the team at Christmas last season.
Brisbane, Turlejski and Fathers are all from Australia and returned this season in top condition.
“Those three have been good for us,” said Schulha. “I’m excited to work with them again. As for Regan he worked hard during the summer and I’m excited to see where he’s at now and excited to be able to work with him for a full season.
“In fact I’m thrilled to work with the four starters we have back. That’s a good core to build off of and we appear to be stronger in other areas as well.”
Middle blocker will be especially solid with Turlejski battling fifth-year Tommy Lyon of Lethbridge, who comes in from Mount Royal University, and Ty Moorman of Penticton, who played with Brandon University.
Cole Vriend and Daimyn Biletsky also return in the middle while Ben Hankins of Red Deer, who played at Koinonia Christian School, is one of the two true rookies on the roster. The other is libero Michael Sumner of Ardrossan. The final addition is setter and Hunting Hills grad Ryan Beatson, who played two years at Medicine Hat College.
Vriend has been battling a shoulder injury while Biletsky could look at moving to the outside.
“Daimyn is one of the quickest players I’ve coached,” said Schulha. “He’s been working on the outside and is looking good. As for Cole he was one of our best blockers last year and we’re hoping his shoulder won’t be an issue.”
There will be a battle for the two starting middle blocker positions, but that’s fine with Schulha.
“We have three guys in Adam, Ty and Tommy who could play for any team in the country,” he said. “It will be a battle to see who starts, but that’s good. We have the depth in case of injuries and it gives guys a chance to rest when they need it.”
Also returning is power hitter Tanner Rehn, Brian Grenier and Kashtin De Souza and outside hitter Grady Mawer.
Rehn is looking for a more consistent season after struggling with injuries last season.
“He would take two steps forward and then have a concussion, then another two steps forward and his knee acted up, but so far he’s looking good as is Kashtin and the libero.”
De Souza is a versatile player, who can play power, but is also exceptional in the back row.
“He is a good passer and strong on defence and is open in terms of where he plays. He wants the best for the team.”
Schulha has a general idea on his starting lineup this season, but nothing is set in stone.
“It’s a long season and we have six or seven months to figure out the lineup we’ll have at the end of the year. It will be interesting to watch some of those battles.”
The Kings will see their first action Thursday at 8:30 p.m. when they face the RDC Alumni in the opening game of the ACAC South Challenge tournament at RDC.
SAIT, Medicine Hat and Briercrest are the other teams from the ACAC South Division with Augustana from the North. Vancouver Island University and the College of the Rockies will represent the PacWest.
The tournament was called the ACAC vs. PacWest the last two years, but changed this season when two of the PacWest teams dropping out.
RDC will also play VIU Friday at 8 p.m., College of the Rockies on Sept. 26 at noon and Augustana at 8 p.m.
The Alumni meets SAIT at 6 p.m. on Friday and on Saturday takes on Briercrest at 10 a.m. and Medicine Hat at 6 p.m.
The Kings will travel to Calgary to face the Mount Royal University Cougars Oct. 7. Their regular season begins Oct. 16 and 17 at home against Medicine Hat.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.