It is almost always more difficult to repeat a championship than to win it the first time.
So much has to go right to win a title that to do it two years in a row, well the odds are stacked against you. The pressure to back up one banner with another is immense.
At the college level, where there is a naturally high-level of turnover, the repeat becomes even more scarce.
The Red Deer College Queens women’s volleyball team, however, are in a unique position to do just that. With eight players set to move on from the program in the off-season, next year may not bring the same opportunity.
That window is closing.
Still, the Queens are heading into the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships in Longueuil, Que., with the belief that anything they accomplish there is gravy, despite holding down the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
“You could sense (winning provincials) was the capping moment for them in their season,’” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “When it comes to nationals, it’s a tournament and anything can happen in a one game match. To put a whole season together and have a great record like we did and then execute well at provincials, I think that really speaks volumes to the ability of a team, not just for the ability to play one match well.”
Walton is not entirely sure what to expect out of the field at the CCAA’s. Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University Mariners — a perennial power in B.C. — were a surprise champion at the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships after undergoing a rebuild this season. They hold the No. 2 seed while the Camosun Chargers, who led the PacWest for most of the year, advanced with a wild card and is the No. 4 seed. The No. 3 Élans de Garneau went 14-0 in Quebec and rolled to a provincial title. Then the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves, who the Queens beat in the ACAC final, are looming with the No. 5 seed.
The Queens open their championship push with a meeting with the No. 8 seeded host Lynx d’Édouard-Montpetit.
“I hope the gym is dead, but it’s highly unlikely that’s going to happen,” said Walton with a laugh. “I saw them on video and they do look like they are an emotional team, and they seem like they have a few athletes that seem to be very emotional leaders. We’re going to have to match them for intensity not emotion.”
The Queens enter the tournament playing their best volleyball of the season. After battling through injuries all year, everything clicked at the ACAC championships at Olds College and they finally looked like a team carrying a dominating 22-2 record.
“I thought we were pretty close to having all of our players firing at the same time (at provincials), I don’t know if we ever got to that, but we definitely got to a level that was pretty consistent throughout,” said Walton. “If things go well and we’re able to find that additional gear, we’ll have a successful tournament because of that.”
• The RDC Kings men’s volleyball team is also at nationals trying to repeat.
Their situation, however, is much different in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The Kings enter as the No. 4 seed on a wild card berth after being upset by the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings in the ACAC championship. Still a valid argument can be made that RDC is the favourite heading into the tournament.
The Kings were not the only upset in the provincial championships, the Douglas College Royals (21-3; 66-20) were beat by the Camosun Chargers (18-6; 60-27) to win B.C. and the Niagara College Knights (12-6; 40-28) won Ontario ahead of Mohawk (17-1; 53-18) who finished third. Camosun, out of Victoria, and Niagara hold down the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds for the CCAA’s while Augustana is slotted at No. 2.
The Kings open up against the No. 5 St. Clair Saints (12-6; 44-25) out of Windsor, Ont., today at 3 p.m. MST.
“It’s really anyone’s weekend, I’ve narrowed it down to a top four or five …” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “It’s really hard to say, we watch a little bit of video on the other conferences, but it’s so hard to get out of the ACAC that we’re more concerned about ourselves.”
RDC had plenty of motivation after losing the provincial final to the Vikings, but Schulha says they have calmed down since then and re-grouped. Nationals will be a completely different animal.
“There’s nothing really to prove,” said Schulha. “You still have that in the back of your head as a motivator but the guys have let it go and they’re refreshed for this week and focused solely on tomorrow.”
A strong start is critical and Schulha says they will have their hands full with the Saints, a smaller team that relies on speed to the outside and features Ontario Colleges Athletic Association player of the year in Jason Hernandez at power. But they also have viable options on the other side of the floor to keep their opposition guessing.
“They’ve got some weapons for sure and with a 12-6 record in a competitive league like the OCAA, they’re not going to be a pushover by any means,” said Schulha.
“We’ve watched enough video on them over the last week … and see some areas that we think we can take advantage of.”
In a perfect world the Kings would like a rematch with the Vikings in the gold medal game, just to see who really is best on a neutral floor.
Despite being the defending national champions, RDC’s roster is filled with players who were not there last year.
One of the few — all-Canadian power Tim Finnigan — however, is already showing the importance of that experience as he gathered the team after the loss in Camrose and reminded them that the real goal is not provincials but nationals.
“Even our first year guys have played in pressure situations and championship moments and I think this group is one that should thrive in this situation,” said Schulha.
• The RDC Queens women’s hockey team will wrap up their ACAC season this weekend as their best-of-five series with the two-time defending league champion NAIT Ooks continues.
The series is tied at 1-1 after the first two games and will get going again tonight in Edmonton at 7 p.m. Game 4 is Saturday at the Red Deer Arena at 3 p.m. and if Game 5 is need it will be back in Edmonton on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.