The RDC Kings weren’t happy with the way last season ended, losing in the national championship gold medal game.
As a result they went into this season’s Alberta Colleges Men’s Volleyball League with one goal in mind — win the ACAC and return to the Nationals.
They took the first step with a 25-22, 25-21, 26-24 victory over the Grant MacEwan University Griffins in the ACAC final before an overflow crowd at RDC Sunday afternoon.
While the Kings swept the final, it was anything but easy.
“We knew they’d battle the heck out of us,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “They’ve come a long way since the beginning of the season. Brad (Poplawski) did a great job with that group and to see guys like Mark Ritter, who was with us last year, playing that wel,l they did some good things.
“The game wasn’t easy, in fact none of the three (matches) were, which was what we needed to put us in the right frame of mind for two weeks from now.”
The Kings will join host Briercrest Bible College Clippers at the national finals, March 6-8 in Moose Jaw.
The Kings went into the championships as the No. 1 ranked team in the country with GMU second. It was disappointing in that only one of the two could advance to the Canadians because the Clippers are hosting.
“It’s one of those things we knew going in,” said Poplawski. “It doesn’t take the sting out of the loss . . . it’s a disappointing end to the season.”
Poplawski gave credit to the Kings and felt they were the better team.
“They passed better than we did and they’re a big, physical team and we didn’t serve well enough to take them out of their system. They’re relentless and keep coming at you and coming at you. They’re also a veteran group that knows how to play and make life difficult.”
The Griffins managed several mini-runs, but every time they started to gain some momentum, the Kings were able to regain control, led by setter and tournament MVP Sam Brisbane.
“They certainly pushed us and we felt the pressure, but we tried to play five points at a time and take it bit-by-bit,” said Brisbane. “I have a lot of talent around me and anyone can get hot and dominate a game . . . other teams have to respect everyone. Still it wasn’t easy winning a championship, we had to work hard to get here.”
Brisbane, a native of Australia, is in his second season with the Kings and will transfer to Mount Royal University next season. His brother will join the Kings.
“When I came here I didn’t know anything about the competition, but I couldn’t be happier. I made the right choice.”
The match had a little bit of everything including some controversy when the Griffins received two red cards in the third set, which results in points for RDC, and Poplawski was awarded a yellow-red card combination, which sent him off the court into what is called the penalty box where he sat for the remainder of the match.
“I’ve never seen that in volleyball,” said Poplawski on the number of red cards for what was considered unsportsmanlike conduct. “When a man I really look up to like Mr. Keith Hansen (RDC director of athletics and the winningest coach in CCAA men’s volleyball history) said it surprised him it means a lot to me. But it doesn’t take the sting out of it.”
Still his squad never gave up and tied the game at 23=23 and 24-24.
“The guys worked hard and we have some good pieces heading into next year (their first in the CIS),” said Poplawski. “It will be a big jump, but basically we played a CIS team today and it showed us where we need to improve. We do have some important pieces returning and will keep adding to them.”
The Kings had all their important pieces back from last season with middle Justin Lukacs and libero Parker Maris the only new faces to the starting lineup.
“This is a special year,” said Schulha. “I was really impressed with this group of guys. They all came back knowing what they wanted to accomplish and went after it. It was a disappointing finish at the nationals and it’s a long way back, but we put ourselves into the position we wanted.”
Chris Osborn had a strong final with 10 kills and two stuff blocks while Tim Finnigan and Braden O’Toole, both all-stars, added eight kills each. Brisbane had two kills and 10 digs. All-star Marcus Ernewein had 15 kills and all-star Zach Brown 12 for the Griffins.
The Kings reached the final with a 25-21, 25-21, 25-18 win over the University of Alberta, Augustana Vikings Saturday.
O’Toole had 15 kills, two aces and three blocks while Finnigan added seven kills and Osborn and Lukacs six each.
The Griffins downed the SAIT Trojans 25-21, 25-20, 23-25, 25-14 in the other semifinal.
SAIT went on to stop the Vikings 25-20, 25-22, 25-17 to finish third. Briercrest took the consolation title with a 25-22, 25-15, 21-25, 25-21 win over Grande Prairie.
Lachie Pollock of SAIT and Luke Ryan of Camrose were also all-stars.