École Secondaire Notre Dame High School volleyball coach AJ Mahoney was a man on a mission this winter.
More than anything, the Cougars’ boys coach wanted to give his senior players an opportunity to play beyond their final high school season – which only lasted through three league games in the fall.
Earlier this week, the final domino fell and all six of the Red Deer high school’s starters from this past season will play post-secondary volleyball next year.
“This has always been a pretty talented group overall, even when they were younger. They’ve always achieved at a high level… it’s been really awesome to work with them. They’ve pushed each other every day,” Mahoney said.
“They all kind of knew this is where they’d end up – they would have the opportunity to keep going and we just happened to have six of them.”
Two Cougars’ players are off to greener pastures in Ontario to play at the USports level, with Adam Hucal committing to the Western University Mustangs and Sam Jansen set to join the York University Lions.
“I think may be before the pandemic, they would have been willing to stay here. The RDC program is really strong and you get to stay in your hometown and your parents and friends can come watch,” Mahoney said.
“For Sam and Adam in particular, I think they were just looking for an adventure – something different. For those two, in particular, they really wanted to challenge themselves.”
Hucal said he’s got family in Ontario, but was just looking for a different experience.
“One of the main factors is I have family that went to Western… The nice weather and just wanting to get out of Alberta, try something new,” he said.
The four others will find their place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association, with Aidan Kelly (Medicine Hat College Rattlers), Ben St. Pierre (Lethbridge College Kodiaks), Noah Dirsten (Briercrest College Clippers) and Robbie Taylor (University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings) all making the jump next season.
“It’s a great group of guys, we’ve been playing with each other for the past three or four years, in club and school,” Jansen said.
“With the help of (Mahoney) he really fostered that into our program and helped promote everyone and gave us all a chance to play the sport we love at the next level.”
For a group that strong, the abrupt end to the 2020 season, which also meant the Cougars didn’t get a chance to host the 4A Volleyball Provincial Championships was a bittersweet pill to swallow.
One shining light that did come out of the year, was in the form of in-game video that Mahoney took of his players during their three league games this season. It gave them a chance to have a leg up on some other recruits across the country that didn’t get to play this year.
“For us it was a bit of a disappointment but at least we got a bit of a chance to practice and play some games. That was huge for us to get film. That was really important for everyone on our team that got recruited,” Hucal said.
“Compared to other schools in other provinces, they couldn’t really practice or play at all. So they really only had film from the year before. Luckily, we had something to work with.”
Both players said it was their coach who really pushed them to believe an opportunity existed beyond the high school level, a point he emphasized and pushed routinely over the past year. Now that they have the chance, both Hucal and Jansen are prepared not to waste it.
“It’s going to be crazy going to play with like 25-year-olds. It’s going to be a big jump, but a good learning experience to see what the next level takes. It’s going to be exciting to see where new opportunities lead us,” Hucal said.
Added Jansen: I’m excited. Especially since this year got cancelled, so now I have five more years of playing the sport I love,” he said.