The Red Deer College athletic department has a daunting task on their hands: producing an encore to last year.
The Kings and Queens won three Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships — men’s and women’s volleyball and women’s curling — and added another silver in men’s basketball.
Most of their teams experienced a lot of turnover but athletic director Keith Hansen says a repeat of that success is the expectation but their focus is on the process.
“Jokingly I say you just win more, but obviously it’s not that easy,” said Hansen, at the department’s official kick off to the new Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season on Sunday at RDC. “The key is to focus on being excellent.”
It’s a lot to follow up on.
But it goes to the culture of winning that has been developed at the institution over the last several decades, they’re not breaking new ground they know full well what it takes to get to the top and stay there.
“We talk about it every day, that this is elitness and we do our very best to succeed, whether that’s in the classroom or outside of the classroom or on or off the playing fields or courts,” said women’s volleyball head coach Talbot Walton. “There’s not really any pressure from that stand point, it’s really more of a culture we’ve created.”
That culture leads to expectations within the department.
Clay Pottinger and the RDC Kings basketball team watched as volleyball swept nationals the week before they went to their own CCAA championship.
Though the Kings came back with a silver medal following one of the most exciting final games in recent memory, losing 88-86 to the Langara Falcons, that RDC success made Potter fully aware of what was at stake.
“I see it as inspiring,” Pottinger. “I really didn’t feel personally any pressure to one-up them or get up to them until we actually were in the national final game and then it dawned on me … There was a moment right before the tip off where I was like ‘hey, we have to win because the other two teams won,’”
The fact they came agonizingly short of their own banner made this a tough summer and he has yet to watch the film from the gold medal game.
Winning it all once at RDC is not enough, especially in volleyball.
Kings head coach Aaron Schulha is fully aware that it is even more difficult it is to stay on top. He will have two fifth year veterans and a few other key players returning, and that should help in their quest.
“It was easy for me to be able to (deal with expectations) because I was part of the eight-in-a-row as an athlete playing under Keith, but when there is that much separation before we (won again last year), it’s all just talk at that point,” he said. “To actually do it and have guys feel what it’s like and know exactly how much work we put in last year I think it’s hugely important.”
These expectations also now shine on the newest member of the RDC coaching fraternity — Ken King who has taken over the women’s basketball team from Michael Wollard.
“It’s a little bit daunting but it’s also nice to have the kind of coaches around me who have that kind of experience,” he said.
This is his first head coaching job after being an assistant with the men’s team at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. There will be plenty of learning opportunities for him at RDC, but he notes he has some of the best coaches in Canada to learn from.
“Every single thing I do every single day is new,” he said. “I lean on (the other coaches) a bit now, but they have no idea how much I’m about to start leaning on them as the season gets underway.”
Hansen fully accepts the pressure that comes with this program-wide success.
“I want that excitement and I want that pressure, I really think pressure drives people to be better, drives people to be more prepared,” he said. “I don’t want the public to cut us any slack, I want them to hold us to task.”
Sunday night was also a chance to celebrate the future.
With the recent announcement that Red Deer will host the Canada Winter Games in 2019, it also means the Kings and Queens will have a new castle to call their own. The college will serve as the athletes village and host several events for the games, and in accordance, a new health and wellness centre will be built at a price tag that will likely go beyond $60 million.
“I honestly believe we have the best athletic program in the country and we have one of the worst athletic facilities in the country, it is time for us to have a new facility,” said Hansen.
Coach’s Corner host Ron MacLean took part in Sunday’s events as the keynote speaker. He and his wife Cari were tabbed as honorary chairmen of the Games and he says this is an opportunity for the city and the college to shine not just now but well into the future.
“The Stanley Cup was won by the Los Angeles Kings this year with Red Deer Rustler Darryl Sutter coaching, the Memorial Cup was won by the (Edmonton Oil Kings) with Derek Laxdal, a Red Deer Rustler coaching, the Olympics were won by Canada with Mike Babcock of the Red Deer College coaching,” he said. “That six degrees from this community, if you have a strong infrastructure like the college, like the Canada Winter Games and the legacy it can create, that just keeps us all here. They call it sustainability.”