NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — The 2016 Canadian Colleges Athletic Association men’s volleyball championship final matched up the two winningest programs in CCAA history — the RDC Kings, who had 11 championships, and the Limoilou Titans, who had 10.
The last time the two met the Kings recorded a heart-stopping 3-2 victory over the Titans in 2006 at Limoilou in Quebec City.
On this occasion it was all RDC as they downed the Titans 25-16, 25-15, 27-25 before close to a full house at Douglas College Saturday.
“We were pretty clinical, especially in the first two sets,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha, who won his second national title in the last three years.
The Kings looked as they would run away with the third set as well, taking a 21-17 lead, but the Titans battled back to it at 23-23. It was tied at 25 when middle blocker Tom Lyon came up with a key block, then Ty Moorman connected on an ace and the celebration began.
“We called a time out late in that set and I told the guys the next five, six, seven points would be the hardest ones they will ever play for,” said Schulha. “We let them tie it then Tommy made that huge block, which was fitting looking back on the year he had.”
“I think we got a little too excited at the end of that third set as we were close to our goal,” said Kings second-year setter Luke Brisbane, who was named the tournament’s MVP.
“But overall this was the best we played all year and it was at the national final.”
Third-year left side hitter Kashtin De Souza agreed.
“When we got to 20 we took our foot off the gas for a bit,” he said. “But overall today it was a matter of executing and keeping our emotions at bay and we did a good job of it.”
The Kings, who went into the season expecting to make a run at a national title, looked like the best team in the country. That started in the fourth set Friday against Camosun, when they overcame a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2.
“In hindsight that was the match of the tournament,” said Brisbane. “Today we came to do our job.”
Brisbane is one of several players back from last season when the Kings lost to Camrose in the ACAC final and then lost to Camosun in the national semifinal.
“Those two losses hurt and motivated us,” said Brisbane, “We knew what it felt like and didn’t like it.”
The Kings went into this season with three goals in mind – finish first in the ACAC South Division, win the ACAC and win the national championship.
“We set three goals and chipped away and accomplished them all,” said Schulha. “We had a mature group and I’m proud of them all.
“In fact to start the year we knew we had the potential to do well, then added those guys at Christmas (Riley Friesen and Matt Lofgren) and we all realized what we could look like.”
As it was the Kings had depth in all areas and could well have had guys grumbling about playing time.
“We had guys on our depth chart who could have started for anyone in the country,” said the veteran coach. “Some guys didn’t necessarily like their role, but they all bought in. They knew they were playing for something bigger than one guy, or themselves. In the end it was a great team effort and I’m super impressed how the guys bought into their roles and played for each other.”
One player who slowly grabbed a starting spot was De Souza, who took over for Lofgren, who injured his ankle.
“Kashtin was a great team guy the first two years and we knew he was itching for more playing time and he did a great job when it came to him. The guys really trusted him. We had a lot of height and he filled that role of a defender and a ball control guy.”
De Souza, who is from Vancouver and was pretty much a walk-on to the team three years ago, was just glad to get an opportunity to start.
“We have a real competitive group with a lot of depth and I was happy to step into this role and run with it,” said De Souza, who will attend UBC and play for the Thunderbirds next season.
Winning their 12th national title and moving two ahead of Limoilou was something Schulha had thought about prior to the final.
“We knew they were one behind, so it’s nice to have a bit of a cushion,” he said. “But this is something we strive for every year. We’ve been to the nationals the last six years and in the semifinal the last four. That’s nothing to sneeze at. But it’s also the history of this program and we’ll chase even more. It’s a driving factor for me.”
The Kings will have a solid group returning next season, including Brisbane. They will lose Nic Dubinsky and Lyon, both fifth-year players.
“I can’t say enough good things about both of them,” said Schulha. “For them to go out on top is only fitting. They were great for this program.”
Dubinsky and Friesen were named to the first all-star team.
Dubinsky had 13 kills, two blocks and an ace in the final while Friesen, who was the player of the game, had seven kills and two aces. Lyon added eight kills and three blocks, Moorman had three kills, three blocks and two aces and De Souza four kills. Brisbane had 27 assists and two kills.
Having Brisbane back is a huge plus for the Kings.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Schulha. “He’s been battling a tight back, but never missed a beat. He’s a battler.”
Winning the MVP was nice but secondary, says Brisbane.
“It’s nice to be recognized but that’s not why we play,” he said.
But what he can say is that he joins his brother, Sam, who won with the Kings two years ago, with a national title.
“It’s good and we won in a similar way,” he said with a smile.
As for returning he added he couldn’t be happier.
“The upper CIS schools didn’t offer enough scholarship money for me to move on,” he said.
“Besides it’s great here and I’m happy to stay.”
Fanshaw, of London, Ont., who will host the 2017 championship, won the bronze medal over Douglas.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.