Over the years the RDC Kings have always had what is considered an undersized middle blocker.
It hasn’t affected their success and this year is no different.
At six-foot-four Justin Lukacs is a bit undersized, but more than makes up for it with his athletic ability and volleyball knowledge.
“He’s shorter than what you consider an ideal middle blocker to look like, but he’s extremely athletic and has a high volleyball IQ,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “Plus he’s super fast.”
But it may be his ability to read the play and get into position that may have been a negative.
“There were times during the first half of the season where he had difficulty blocking because he was getting there too early,” added Schulha.
“We talked with him on understanding he has more time than he thought. We worked with him over the Christmas break (in California) and since he’s ran with it.”
It was during the Kings trip to California where they played a pair of university teams, including the two-time NCAA champion University of California Irvine that Lukacs stepped into the starting role.
“Coming in the first year you don’t expect to play much, but since Christmas I’ve been playing a lot,” said the Calgary native. “It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Lukacs got involved in volleyball with the Elite West Club program plus played three years of senior high school volleyball at Bishop Carroll.
“When I first started I didn’t know much about volleyball and they made me a middle right away. I’m not sure if they saw something in me or they just needed a middle, but I’ve played nothing else since.”
The last two years of high school Bishop Carroll finished third in the city and was sixth at the provincials last year.
“That was good considering we had a rag-tag bunch of athletes,” he said.
It was during his Grade 12 season that Schulha scouted Lukacs.
“I was looking at playing post-secondary volleyball, as I love the sport, and one of the first days I could be contacted Aaron said he wanted me. That was a factor . . . if someone wants you that makes a difference. I talked with him a bit and it was a perfect fit.”
Lukacs is taking open studies and is more than likely around for one more year before switching to computer science at Mount Royal University.
“I don’t know about next year, but I’m flexible,” he said. “It depends a lot on this year and if I’m back next year we lose a lot of the bigger guys and I’ll have to take on more of a leadership role.”
No matter what the Kings will still have a talented starting lineup next season as they have one of the deepest benches in the ACAC.
“You can see that during practice,” said Lukacs. “We always play the starters against the other guys and it’s always close.”
As for facing larger middle blockers, Lukacs isn’t worried.
“I’ve been playing against good teams in club and I was up against bigger, tougher guys and used to it,” he said.
He’ll see some tough competition this weekend as RDC faces the Grant MacEwan University Griffins in a home-and-home series — Friday at RDC and Saturday in Edmonton.
It brings together the top two men’s teams in the nation with the Kings No. 1 and the Griffins moving into the second this week.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Lukacs. “Last week we played two tough matches (against SAIT) and this week will be the same. I believe we’re prepared and hopefully we can take care of business.”
The Kings need a split in the two matches to wrap up first place and go into the playoffs, set for Feb. 21-23 at RDC, as the top seed.
The Queens, who are ranked fourth in Canada, also need to split to finish first. The Queens are 17-1 with Grande Prairie and ninth-ranked GMU at 15-3.
The women get underway at 6 p.m. with the men to follow.
• The basketball teams are off this week. The Kings, who have wrapped up first place heading into the ACAC finals, Feb. 28-March 2 at RDC, have moved into fourth place in the CCAA rankings.
• The hockey Queens finish regular season play with a twin bill against the SAIT Trojans — Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arena and Saturday in Calgary.
The Queens have wrapped up the third and final playoff spot with the Trojans six points back.
• The hockey Kings have a tough test this weekend as they face the first-place SAIT Trojans Friday in Calgary and Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
The Kings are tied with NAIT, three points back of SAIT.
• Hockey Queens forward Jade Petrie, who had two goals and three assists in a pair of games against NAIT, is the RDC Boston Pizza female athlete of the week.
Basketball Kings Taner Parrington, who had 28 points and 18 rebounds in a pair of wins over St. Mary’s, took the top male award.
Volleyball middle Shelby Bromall, curling lead Taylor Eno and basketball forward Mozanga Ekwalanga were also considered among the women. Volleyball right side Braden O’Toole and hockey forward Logan Sceviour considered on the men’s side.
The volleyball Queens were named the Breathing Room team of the week.