Finishing second at the nationals last season was naturally disappointing for the RDC Kings volleyball squad, especially with it being on their home court.
But to be realistic they didn’t embarrass themselves and lost to an outstanding team in Fanshawe, Que.
Still the 13-time Canadian Colleges Athletic Association champion Kings, who also have three silver and three bronze CCAA medals, have the silver medal hung in their team room to remind them of last year.
“We can look at it every day so there should be no more motivation needed,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “It will be motivation for the returning guys, who knows what it takes to get there and what they could have done better, throughout the year.”
The Kings have six returnees on a 13-man roster with the graduation of fifth-year starters Regan Fathers and Adam Turlejski the biggest holes to fill.
“Regan and Turk were big guns and will be missed, but we have a lot of competition and will spread out the offence more,” said Kings third-year setter Tom Wass.
“It changes the game for me, but in a good way. It keeps me on the ball as so far I don’t have any one go-to guy. For a setter it’s important to know what all your guys like and to establish early on a connection with them. The earlier you have that the better it will get as we move on.”
Schulha expects it will take some time for the team to jell, despite having four starters back, with Wass, middle Mark DeWit, who was an all-star in the ACAC and at the nationals, and left side hitters Ben Holmes and JJ Graham. Outside hitter Jayden Fathers and middle Cody Boulding also return.
“Six is a consistent number we’ve had over the last three years,” said Schulha. “We lost some good guys for sure. We’ve added a lot of talent, so we’re certainly not in a rebuilding state, but looking to continue on at a high level.”
One of the impressive newcomers is Aussie outside hitter Pat Taze. Taze was the PacWest Rookie of the Year in 2015-16 with the College of the Rockies and on the second All-Conference team the following season.
He spent a year with the Mount Royal University Cougars before taking a year off to rehab an injury.
“He’s an athletic, dynamic player,” said Schulha. “Playing two years of college and a year of U Sport in Canada means he’s familiar with the game here and has the leadership which he’s already showing.
“He can play either the left or right side. It would seem natural to slot him in on the right side, replacing Regan, but we’ll see what develops and what is our best lineup.”
The addition of Taze and middle Dillon Gauci, to go with Fathers and Wass, continues the Kings strong pipeline with Australia.
“That’s been important for us and something we like to continue,” said Schulha, who can only dress three imports each match.
“Same as last year … it will work out.”
Schulha is looking forward to the preseason to put together a starting lineup.
“We have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions which is a nice problem to have. We’ll need the preseason to figure out what our best lineup looks like for the first half, as well as the second half for that matter.”
The Kings already know they’ll have a new face in the second half in outside hitter Shae McIntyre out of Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay. He played a year at the University of Alberta and will miss the first half of this season.
Libero Zak Hallworth is also out of Harry Ainlay with outside hitter Carter Hills of Morinville having an Edmonton connection after playing club ball there with Hallworth.
Other newcomers are middle Richard Benning of Lloydminster and setter Brett Theise of Swift Current.
The Kings will be solid in the middle as they’ve added size in Gauci and Benning and will be led by DeWit.
“The way he (DeWt) finished last year he should be one of the best middles in the conference,” said Schulha. “Once he became a full-time starter he took the ball and ran with it. We’ve added depth in the middle. and all four are athletic, quick and hungry to perform, which means more internal battles, which is good for us.”
There won’t be a battle for starting setter.
“Tom has done a good job. He’s consistently developed his game in terms of being a floor general, thinking high level and making quality choices,” said Schulha. “He’s got better year to year and he’ll continue to improve, which is important for us.”
Kings will host their tournament Sept. 27-28.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com