If there is a silver lining to an injury to a starting player is it allows opportunities for young players to prove themselves.
Red Deer College Kings setter Luke Brisbane has done just that.
The 19-year-old Aussie is following in his brother Sam’s footsteps with the men’s volleyball team.
Sam moved on to Mount Royal University after he helped the Kings to their first national championship since 2007 last season, opening a spot up for his younger brother back in Melbourne.
Standing in Luke’s way on the court, however, was fourth-year senior Tegan McGraw. Then, in the second week of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season in Caronport, Sask., against Briercrest, McGraw was sidelined with a bad case of shin splints. The injury could potentially turn out to be a much more serious injury, future test are scheduled for the end of the month.
“Luke’s a little more physical than Sam was, so his upside is extremely high, he just keeps getting better every day,” said head coach Aaron Schula.
At six-foot-four, Brisbane is a physical setter with the ability to get up for a block or a net attack, and he has already shown an advanced ability to run an offence for a freshman.
But, to be fair, he had some advanced scouting done for him by his brother.
“All of the calls and signals are completely different so I’ve had to learn all of that, but my brother warned me and told me a few other things so I wasn’t completely lost when I got here,” he said.
“But the style of play is pretty similar to what I’m used to.”
It all creates an interesting scenario if McGraw if able to return, but Brisbane will likely be a permanent presence in the lineup.
“It was very nice at the start of the year to have two guys that are very capable, one that is young and really learning and Tegan who has been around a little bit longer and played at the college level, played the university level,” said Schula.
“(McGraw) was a little bit further along in terms of the technical aspects and the speed of the game here, but Luke’s learning curve is very, very steep.”
Sam actually got Luke into volleyball while they were growing up, eventually even playing on the same club team in Luke’s Grade 10 year and Sam’s Grade 12 year.
In Australia, volleyball has a much different system than in Canada.
They do not have a high school sport set up like in Alberta, instead several schools will get together and form elite club teams.
Brisbane — who’s first love was Aussie rules football — was quick to rise through the ranks of the Greater Melbourne Volleyball Academy.
He started making all-star teams in 2010 at the U16 level and was named captain of the Australian junior national team at the Asian Youth Championships in Iran in 2012 and other tour events tournaments in the region.
However, after high school, the options are limited for volleyball players in Australia.
The absolute cream of the crop often move straight to the pro level in Europe as 18 or 19 year-olds. But for the next tier of players, there is no college system or development opportunity in their native lands.
In the last several years, more and more of them have been making their way to North America.
Brisbane is one of two Aussies currently on the Kings roster, Adam Turlejski is a freshman middle and has come off the bench to play in the first three weeks. They are part of the third wave of Australian nationals that have played at the school since Nicholas Bell first came to Red Deer in 2010.
“We’re going to hopefully keep working that pipeline because its a really good thing and it’s a really easy thing in terms of English speaking and a few other things,” said Schula.
It is Brisbane’s goal to follow his brother at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, though likely to a different program as they both play the same position. However, he is focused on following his brother in another area, winning a national championship, a point reinforced on Friday last week with their first game in town this season.
“It was pretty cool for the home opener seeing all of their celebrations and match winning points, it was inspiring,” he said.
In the more immediate future is this weekend’s home-and-home set with the Ambrose University Lions (2-4, 7-13), in Calgary on Friday at 8 p.m. and in Red Deer on Saturday at 8 p.m.
The Kings (5-1, 16-4) are currently the top-ranked team in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association and just swept Medicine Hat (6-2, 19-7), the No. 2 team, last week. These games will give them a chance to get their bench a lot of time with a number of top players with varying degrees of injuries. However, they are not about to take the first-year team too lightly.
“They’ve played some teams tough … They’re a team that can sneak up and scare you,” said Schula. “I’m hoping for some more healthy bodies this weekend to give us some options, but I expect them to play us tough and that’s what we want. We’ know we’re going to get every team’s best … and they’re coming off two wins last weekend against Olds College so they’ll have some confidence.”
• The RDC Queens (5-1, 16-4) volleyball team will also play the Lions(1-5, 5-16) on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. both nights.
• The RDC Queens (1-3-0-0) women’s hockey team plays the MacEwan University Griffins (2-2-0-0) in a home-and-home set, in Edmonton tonight at 7 p.m. and at the Red Deer Arena on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. The men’s team also play, the Griffins (7-2-0-3) host on Friday at 8:15 p.m. and RDC (6-5-01) hosts at the Penhold Regional Multiplex on Saturday at 7 p.m.
• RDC hosts the Lethbridge College Kodiaks with the women tipping off at 6 p.m. on Friday and the men at 8 p.m., and on Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m., respectively.