Volleyball plays a big role in the Gagnon family.
So it’s no surprise to see 17-year-old Josh Gagnon following in his parents and sister’s footsteps.
His parents were stars of the game with his dad, Terry, playing at the University of Manitoba and the Canadian National team at the Olympics and his mother, Shelley (nee Brewster), playing with the RDC Queens and the University of Alberta Pandas.
As well sister Samantha played with the Notre Dame Cougars and received a scholarship to UBC Okanagan.
“I played other sports as well, but in the end it was always volleyball,” said the Grade 11 student-athlete, who still plays badminton, tennis and competes in track with the Lindsay Thurber Raiders.
Josh attended Camille J. Lerouge in Grade 9 and was on the path to attend Notre Dame, but decided to switch to LTCHS.
“There were reasons … they have a great volleyball program and every opportunity to get better and (Raiders head coach) Terence (McMullen) has been a big help in my development.”
Josh also doesn’t have far to look if he needs a boost or has a question about the game.
“My parents have so much experience they know what’s going on and help if I’m doing something wrong or just need support.”
They never pushed Josh to play the game.
“Not at all. They said whatever I wanted to do would be great.”
Josh got into the game early, in fact started playing with a balloon and stools around the house. His competitive career began in Grade 6 and with the 13U Central Alberta Kings Volleyball Club.
“There was a group of us who were 12 and played a year up,” he said. “And a group of us are still together.”
The six-foot-one Gagnon plays left side, although he did play Libero in an all-star game.
He has a solid all-round game and takes pride in his passing and defence.
“It‘s huge, without passing and defence you can’t turn the ball around and run the offence,” he said adding he’s never satisfied with his game.
“You always want to improve,” he said. “I think my jump could be better, so I can be more efficient going up against some of the bigger guys.”
The fact he spends the summer playing beach volleyball only helps his development.
“It helps the indoor game as on defence and passing you need to predict where the ball is going and because you’re jumping in sand that helps as well.”
Josh and his beach partner Colby Nemeth, who also plays with the Raiders and Kings Club, are the defending provincial champions and won the 16U Tier II title at the nationals.
They’ll be together again this summer.
The fact they know each other helps, says Gagnon.
“It’s certainly easier. A couple years ago I tried out for Team Alberta and Colby didn’t, so I had a new partner. I was also injured at the time of the provincials so I wasn’t going to play. But the guy who was to take my place was committed elsewhere and I played but it was rough in that we hadn’t played together.”
But first things first and that’s a trip to the Canadian 17U indoor championships this week.
The Kings placed seventh at the provincials, but Gagnon feels they’re playing some of their best volleyball of the season.
“We struggled a little at the beginning, but by the time we played in the Best of the West we started to figure it out. We played well there and at the provincials and pushed some of the top teams.”
Gagnon has been a member of the Alberta Sport Development Centre — Central for three years.
“It’s a real benefit,” he said. “You get mental and nutrition training and my favourite is the access to the gym and trainer, helping get my strength up.”
Josh is a Gold Level athlete which means more personalized instruction when working with sports psychologist Doug Swanson.
Josh is an honour student with distinction in the International Baccalaureate program and in French Immersion at LTCHS and has a year to decide what he wants to take at the next level.
“My goal is to play at a post-secondary institution,” he said. “I do know schooling is No. 1, but I’m hoping for a scholarship. If I receive any offers I’ll look at them and go from there.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com