Red Deer College may want to rethink its mascot, trading in Rufus’s lion costume for a kangaroo jumpsuit.
Their men’s volleyball team added a third Australian during the semester break, and they have formed the foundation of what could be a national power, not just for this year but for next year as well.
Setter Luke Brisbane was forced into the spotlight early due to an injury to incumbent Tegan McGraw, but with the development of middle Adam Turlejski and the addition of Regan Fathers, they have legitimized their expectations to repeat as national champions.
“To have those three as confirmed and solidified for what should be three of our starting seven is really important and should help in the recruiting for next year as well,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “They’ve been a great addition and this Australian pipeline is one we hope to continue.”
The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference and Canadian Colleges Athletic Association banners hanging from the rafters are a big reason Fathers chose RDC as a school, while also being recruited by several Canadian Universities.
He understands the potential at RDC to not only add to the collection but to develop into a top player.
Fathers, 18, talent is obvious, but he is as raw as they come.
Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, he played both beach and indoor volleyball, but focused mainly on beach the last two years. However, he decided that his future lies playing the game with a roof over his head.
His power is elite, but he needs to work on the rest of his game.
The biggest adjustment for him is learning to use all of the extra players around him — in beach there is a smaller court and just two players on each side of the net.
“It’s very different, especially the atmosphere, especially when you go on trips, there are 17 or 18 guys here, but in beach there’s two,” said the six-foot-five Fathers. “It’s certainly quite different, I like the more intense atmosphere with more people.”
He has already managed to establish himself as one of the Kings’ biggest weapons, sitting third on the team in kills per set with 2.31, trailing only all-Canadian Tim Finnigan (3.58) and fellow Christmas addition Nic Dubinsky (2.77).
To reach the next level of his development, however, he needs to work on the finer points of his game, particularly on the defensive side of the game, but Schulha says it is only a matter of time before those are sorted out.
“Being a primary passer and a position six defender, those are all things where if you’re not technically sound, it exposes you a little bit,” said Schulha. “I think he’s technically sound, but he’s learning a lot very quickly coming in at Christmas.”
Turlejski, a Melbourne native, started the season with the Kings but was also very much an untouched ball of clay when he walked off the plane. His development was a little slower early in his time with RDC, but has escalated him in recent weeks as he has turned into one of the ACAC’s best blockers. The last two weeks alone, he has combined for 13 in four matches.
“I feel like I’m starting to be more of a consistent blocker, me and Schulha have been doing a lot of work in that,” said the six-foot-eight Turlejski, who has always just played indoors.
The transition to Canada and the Kings has been made easier by having two countrymen with him.
“Especially having an Australian setter because I have played a little bit with Luke as well … I didn’t have to adjust a whole lot volleyball-wise.”
Blocking has been a team focus, but one that has been particularly embraced by the Aussies. Brisbane, for example, is in the rare situation of leading his team with 39 blocks despite being a setter.
“We’re pushing it with our whole team, we’re a pretty physical group and we’re a deep group,” said Schulha. “This past weekend in Medicine Hat, latter on in the match on Saturday, we were able to solidify some things blocking-wise and turn the tables in our favour and ended up squeaking out that four-set win.”
For all three Aussies, the goal is to play another season at RDC before moving on up to a Canadian Interuniversity Sport program.
Volleyball is their passion, but one they were not able to pursue in their homeland at a college level. Due to this, Australia’s top volleyball players have to leave the continent and head to North America.
“I just love playing volleyball, I want to play as much as I can for as long as I can,” said Turlejski. “Regardless of where I go, I want to finish with a degree, get my five years done and then ideally play professional and see where it takes me.”
The Kings are coming off their second straight split week, dropping them to No. 2 in the CCAA rankings, needing to beat the Medicine Hat College Rattlers on Saturday to maintain their hold on first place in the ACAC South Division.
This weekend they face the SAIT Trojans in a home-and-home series. While the Kings have a playoff spot locked up — though still fighting to clinch the top seed in the playoffs — the Trojans are playing for their playoff lives, two points up on the Briercrest Clippers for the final spot.
Schulha wants to see the passing and serving improve from his squad, not just this weekend but over the last couple weeks of the season as they head into provincials.
“When you look after the pass and you serve well, the rest of it takes care of itself,” he said. “That blocking piece becomes an even greater strength when you put teams in trouble with your serve. … We’ve got lots of offensive weapons, but I don’t think we’ve been able to use them to the best of our ability.”
They play in Red Deer on Friday at 8 p.m., following the women’s 6 p.m. start. RDC will then play SAIT in Calgary on Saturday at 6 and 8 p.m.
The No. 1 ranked RDC Queens (18-2; 57-10) are also looking to lock up first place in the division while the Trojans (12-8; 39-32) are third, comfortably in a playoff position.
• The RDC Queens hockey team (10-6-4) hosts the SAIT Trojans (9-9-2) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena and will return the favour on Friday in Calgary. If the Queens sweep the weekend, they will clinch second place in the ACAC.
• The RDC Kings men’s hockey team hosts the SAIT Trojans on Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex, and plays in Calgary on Saturday at 7 p.m.