Last season didn’t end the way the Red Deer College Kings volleyball squad had hoped.
The Kings lost in their opening game of the ACAC playoffs to the eventual national champion MacEwan Griffins and went on to finish fifth.
“It was disappointing as we went into the championships playing very well then had one poor game and it cost us everything,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha.
As a result Schulha spent the off-season looking to strengthen his team to take that next step and from all indications he did just that.
His biggest addition is six-foot-five power hitter Taylor Hunt of Brooklin, Ont., who played three years ago with the University of Manitoba.
“He came out of high school and stepped in as a starter at the CIS level, so it shows his level of talent,” said Schulha. “He has a great arm and a very consistent passer.”
Hunt took the last two years off before deciding to return to school.
“He wanted a change of scenery from the University and we’re glad he picked us,” said Schulha.
Hunt will join four-year veteran Chris Wowchuk on the left side with All-Canadian Mitch Irvine on the right side. Irvine just returned from helping Team Alberta win gold at the Canada Winter Games.
“We have a lot of talent on the outside,” added Schulha.
“Mitch had a great year last year and the return of Chris and the addition of Taylor will spread our offence around, so the opposition won’t be able to key on any one player. This will also open up the middle.”
Schulha has four starters back out of the seven veterans in camp.
Setter Chris Gilbert and middle Jeremy Stubler join Wowchuk and Irvine as returning starters.
Other veterans are middle Darren Dornstauder, middle-outside hitter Andy Inglis and outside hitter Trevor Gillis, who saw brief action last season.
Two other veterans — power hitter Brandon Papp and setter Evan Whitecotton — decided late in the summer not to return.
Dornstauder, who started briefly last season, will battle Inglis and rookies Sean Tuff of Lindsay Thurber and Boston Maris of Edson for a starting spot, although Inglis and Maris are working more on the outside.
“As it is we should have three quality middles, something we haven’t had in some time,” said Schulha.
Gilbert is expected to start at setter, but could be pushed by six-foot-three Darcy Froese, who played at Lindsay Thurber two years ago. He attended college in the States last year.
“He went down to play hockey with a Division II school, but found his engineering classes took too much time,” explained Schulha.
“So he was able to come back home and combine volleyball with his classes here.”
LTCHS grad Dallas Snider and Matt Saunders from Lord Beaverbrook in Calgary will battle it out at libero.
Saunders played with the Calgary Canuck Stuff, who placed in the top five at the national U18 championships.
Other rookies in camp are power hitter Tucker Leinweber of Acme and middle-outside hitter David King of Stettler.
“We have a lot of depth,” said Schulha. “In the past we kept 12 or 13 players while this year it’s 15 and we’ll have a tough time deciding on which 12 to dress each game. But that’s good. It’ll push everyone.”
The Kings open their exhibition schedule Tuesday in Airdrie against SAIT and will host the Canadian National Masters team next Thursday at 8 p.m. at RDC. They host NAIT, Sept. 29 at Hunting Hills with the Kings Challenge Cup tournament, Oct. 9-11.