Former Kings off to Olympics

Eight straight national titles is bound to produce solid players, and three former Red Deer College Kings volleyball team members are off to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio. From 1999 to 2007, the Kings won eight straight national volleyball titles. An unprecedented run that earned the teams a spot in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame this summer.

Eight straight national titles is bound to produce solid players, and three former Red Deer College Kings volleyball team members are off to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio.

From 1999 to 2007, the Kings won eight straight national volleyball titles. An unprecedented run that earned the teams a spot in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame this summer.

Representing the program from those teams are Gavin Schmitt, Dallas Soonias and Chaim Schalk. They will compete at the Olympics starting on Aug. 5. Schmitt and Soonias are a part of the national volleyball team that clinched a sport in the games for the first time since 1992.

“Gavin is one of the strongest players on the national team and he was at RDC during the 2006-07 season — he actually hit the last ball to win the national title during our eight-in-a-row run,” said Keith Hansen, the Kings head coach for much of the historic run.

“Dallas is from Red Deer and played two seasons. He has been a huge part of building the national team, helping them achieve the success they have.”

The indoor team snuck into the Olympics in a last chance qualifying event with a five-set victory over China (25-16, 20-25, 24-26, 15-20, 15-9).

Unfortunately, Soonias’ status is in question as he suffered a knee injury and it is not decided if he will be a part of the team or not. After leaving college, Soonias played 10 years of professional volleyball and has been a part of the national team for 13 years.

“I’m training daily to get to the level needed to compete,” said Soonias. “One of my biggest motivators is that I realize this is bigger than me personally. Several years ago, I started to receive messages that I was a role model for Aboriginal Youth — at first I didn’t consider myself in that way, but as I got older, I realized that I have to be a positive role model.

“That’s why I’m still working hard to be able to go to Rio.”

Schmitt and Soonias have been on the national team since 2007, despite not playing together with the Kings. Schmitt noted the annual world championships are a bigger event with 24 teams, but the Olympics is still king despite a narrower field of 12 teams.

“A national team does all of its building and planning based on a four-year cycle to try and get to the Olympics, so this is a massive achievement for our team,” said Schmitt. “This is such an exciting time for us — for the current players and coaches and for all of those who were such an important part of us getting here.”

Schalk is on his way to the international competition as one half of a beach volleyball squad with Ben Saxton, of Calgary. He grew up on his family’s acreage near Red Deer playing beach volleyball int he backyard. After playing for the Kings during the impressive run, he switched to the beach side of the game in 2009.

Partners since 2013, they train in California when not competing on the world tour. Their spot in the Olympics was secured on June 13 when the team was in the top-15 in the Olympic rankings.

“Representing Canada at the Olympics is a dream come true for me,” said Schalk. “Ben and I have proven that we can medal at the toughest tournaments so that is our focus. There’s still a ton of preparation that needs to happen before August, but our team is ready for the challenge.”

mcrafword@bprda.wpengine.com

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