The defending national champion RDC Kings will have somewhat of a new look next season, but head coach Aaron Schulha expects to be once again challenging for an Alberta Colleges Men’s Volleyball League title.
Schulha has only three returnees to the starting lineup — all-Canadian power hitter Tim Finnigan, all-star middle blocker Chris Osborn and second-year middle Justin Lukacs — among the seven veterans on the roster.
“It’s nice to have two fifth-year players in Tim and Chris, they’ll certainly anchor the team,” said Schulha, who also has Anthony Finnigan, Kashtin DeSouza, Chase Walper, who red shirted last year, and Pat McIntyre, who played two years ago, back.
Setter Tegan McGraw from B.C. also comes in with a good deal of experience having played with Lethbridge College and spent the last two seasons with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
“Last year he red shirted, but has a lot of experience and will fit in nicely with Luke (Brisbane),” added Schulha. “The two are close in their skill level and will push each other. We’ll have a deep bench again and with two strong setters going up against each other it adds to the level of practice.”
Brisbane is the brother to setter Sam Brisbane, who spent the last two seasons with the Kings and will join the Mount Royal University Cougars this season.
“Sam feels that Luke is at a higher level than he was at a similar stage of his development,” said Schulha, who will also have six-foot-seven middle blocker Adam Turlejski joining Brisbane from Australia.
“Adam has only been playing the game for three years, so he’s raw but his learning curve is steep and we like the fact we can mold him into our system.”
With Osborn from Phoenix, Ariz., the Kings will have three imports.
“A lot of other teams in the league are loading up with three imports as well and we’re fortunate to have three quality players,” said Schulha, who also has two other rookies — Cole Vriend out of Edmonton Christian and Daimyn Biletsky of Notre Dame — in the middle.
“Cole played with the Edmonton Fog club team and finished second at the Canadian U18 championships, so he’s very capable. Daimyn isn’t as tall, but he’s quick and a real student of the game.”
With the three newcomers in the middle, Schulha can see both Osborn and Lukacs looking at playing on the outside.
“We’ll see how it goes in camp,” he said.
The remaining trio of rookies are all from the provincial 4A champion Lindsay Thurber Raiders in Tanner Rehn, Scott Irvine and Brian Grenier.
Rehn was recruited by several university teams, but Schulha feels its’s to his benefit to play at RDC.
“It’s nice to keep him at home so he can develop for a couple of years and then look to move on,” said the veteran coach. “In fact it’s great to get four quality players out of Red Deer. It says a lot about the programs here.”
Keaton Reid, who was a backup setter last year, could also be back, but would be used as a utility player.
The fact the Kings are the two-time defending ACAC championships and gold medalists at the nationals, makes it easier to recruit says Schulha.
“No doubt,” he said. “Once you have a tradition of excellence you receive more interest for sure. I have a number of kids in Grade 10 and 11 contacting me already, which gives us a chance to see them for a year or two.”
With the roster set, Schulha can now look at other aspects of preparing for next season.
“I’ll start putting together a calender with exhibition games and tournaments and work on scholarships,” he said. “As well we’ll start running some open gym time shortly. I know I have an itch to get back in the gym.”
The ACAC will change back to a North-South league system during the season. The South Division will add Ambrose University out of Calgary, but will still be strong with Briercrest Bible College, Medicine Hat and SAIT challenging with Olds expected to continue to improve.
Former King Mitch irvine, who just graduated from the U of A will be an assistant coach with the Kings this season.