It was the perfect storm for the RDC Kings volleyball team last season.
They went into the year with five returnees and only one — middle Adam Turlejski — as a starter. They then ran into a string of injuries and when the things cleared they found themselves out of the ACAC playoffs for the first time in decades.
Even then they would have made the playoffs any other year, but because Medicine Hat was fifth, and were hosting the ACAC playoffs they were given the Kings position.
“In hindsight it was the perfect storm,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “With a high number of turnovers, combined with the injuries, it took it’s toll.”
The Kings posted a 15-9 record. They opened the season with five straight wins, but then ran into injuries, winning four of their next 13 matches. They finished winning their final six matches as they were once again healthy and playing as a team.
“The guys were disappointed but it was a learning experience and motivating,” said Schulha. “We weren’t far off and the guys coming back will have a chip on their shoulders.”
The Kings will have to be better next season as they host the CCAA championships in the new Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.
“And we will be,” said Schulha. “We will have six or seven returnees, which is normal outside of last year, and a good group of recruits.
Looking at the returnees, which includes setter Tom Wass, middle Mark de Wit and left side Ben Holmes, and an impressive list of recruits the Kings, who have the winningest program in CCAA history, should be battling for national gold.
Two of the recruits alone — Regan Fathers and Tristan Simmonds — give the Kings two of the premier outside hitters in the country.
Fathers, the Red Deer male athlete of the year for 2017, returns after spending a season at the University of Calgary. He returns because of academics.
He was the MVP at both the ACAC and CCAA championships in the 2016-17 season. He led the ACAC South Division with 316 kills while Simmonds played for Grande Prairie in 2016-17, led the ACAC North with 310 kills, and was a CCAA All-Canadian.
“They’re big additions,” admitted Schulha. “Regan knows how we do things while Tristan is a huge piece playing on the left side. He’s new to our program, but knows what we are about and will be a leader.”
Simmonds played with UBC Okanagan last season, but decided he wanted to finish his career in the ACAC.
Schulha has added a number of impressive rookies in left side J.J. Graham of Lindsay Thurber, six-foot-seven middle Jace Harden from Sylvan Lake, middle Cody Boulding from Prince George, B.C., right side/setter Noah Robinson from Harry Ainlay in Edmonton and Jayden Fathers — Regan’s brother — from Australia.
The Kings will go into the season with four imports — Turlejski, Wass and the Fathers brothers — but can only play three.
“As it looks Jayden will start as a red shit, but could play if we run into injuries,” said Schulha. “He’ll definitely fit in. He was the captain of the Australian Youth and Junior teams, and is a good athlete.”
Schulha isn’t finished recruiting as he’d like to carry up to 17 players — he’s at 14 now.
“We have a number of guys as fifth-year players and want to have a group back who will fit in the next year,” he said. “I’ve talked with several individuals, but also want to see if anyone else out there who may be interested.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org