Winning a national championship always puts a bit more pressure on a team as they try to repeat. Then again, it also makes it easier to recruit.
“When you have success it makes recruiting a little easier for sure, guys want to come and guys want to stay,” said Kings volleyball head coach Aaron Schulha, whose team won their 13th CCAA championship last season.
“This year for example we have two fifth-year players, which we haven’t had for a long time. Guys want to stay around which speaks volumes about the program.”
Power hitter Tim Finnigan and Chris Osborn, who will look to play the right side this season after starting in the middle, are both in their fifth and final season of eligibility. As well, outside hitter Anthony Finnigan is in his third season and libero Pat McIntyre is a third-year player who is returning after a year off.
“(Former Kings coach) Keith Hansen always said, and I agree, that our athletes are our best recruiters. If they’re happy and enjoy the program others will want to come,” said Schulha.
Overall, Shulha has 16 players in camp after Notre Dame grad Grady Mawer, a six-foot-one utility player, came on board. Mawer played a season with Memorial University.
The Kings should be strong at setter despite the loss of Sam Brisbane, who is attending Mount Royal University.
Luke Brisbane, who followed his brother from Australia, and Teagan McGraw, who spent two years at the University of Alberta and one with Lethbridge College, will battle for the starting setter job.
“If we were to throw together a starting lineup right now we’d lose a bit with Sam not being back, but then he was one of the best setters we’ve ever had and we’ve had a lot of good ones,” said Schulha.
“Luke is younger than Sam, but a bit bigger (at six-foot-four) and more physical while Tegan has been away for a year, but trained with (former national team setter) Brock Davidiuk and has good hands. We’ll be fine. They’ll battle each other for a spot and having two quality setters who can run our system the way I want will only make our team that much stronger.”
The Kings are short on experience in the middle, only because Osborn and Justin Lukacs, who started last season, are both moving outside.
“It gives Chris more volume and Justin wants to play CIS, so at six-foot-four he’s a bit short for university and it will be better for him to be on the outside. I like the guys we have coming in, although if needed we can always move Osborn and Justin back,” said Schulha.
Six-foot-seven Adam Turlejski from Australia is one of three new faces in the middle along with Chase Walper, who red-shirted last season.
Other newcomers are Cole Vriend of Edmonton and Daimyn Bilestsky out of Red Deer Notre Dame.
Kashtin De Souza is a second-year power hitter, with six-foot-seven Tanner Rehn, six-foot-four Scott Irvine and six-foot-three Brian Grenier all coming in on the outside from the provincial 4A champion Lindsay Thurber Raiders.
“It hasn’t happened in a long time that we’ve had this much local talent, but it’s great to keep the best players in Red Deer,” said Schulha. “Hopefully we keep them for at least a couple years and prepare them for the CIS. It’s good to keep the community behind us.”
Overall, the Kings are bigger and deeper than last year’s squad, but Schulha feels the key to success will be Finnigan and Osborn.
“We need those two on the floor at the same time for sure, and then see who fills the other outside slot,” he said.
The Kings’ first exhibition match is Sept. 23 when they host the RDC alumni, which will include former national team players Nicholas Cundy and Davidiuk and Mitch Irvine, who starred for the U of A after RDC.
Irvine, who is teaching Grade 5 in Red Deer, will join the coaching staff this year. Terence McMullen is leaving the staff while Blake Henwood and Aaron Yasinski return.
The Kings will also play in the ACAC-PAC dual tournament in B.C. Sept. 26-29.