Last year the Red Deer College Athletic department reached for the stars and got there.
This year, they landed on the moon.
It feels a little less glamorous not getting back to the same level where they won three national championships and nearly a fourth to go with their three provincial banners.
That’s the problem with setting new standards and not getting back to that level again, regardless of how good the effort on its own looks.
RDC athletic director Keith Hansen, however, is being very careful to keep the two years separate.
“I really do look at every year as just a different year,” said Hansen. “I think we had an exceptional year again this year, I think we had an unbelievable year last year. Even when I coached, I tried to look at each year as it’s own separate entity and not try too hard to guard the past or look too far into the future.”
The shining star of the RDC department this year is the women’s volleyball team. They won their second-straight Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship — the only one captured by the college this year — as they beat the FX Garneau Elans 3-2 (22-25, 25-19, 25-22, 24-26, 15-13) in the final this past weekend.
It was their third national banner overall.
But it was also the lone provincial banner earned by RDC this year as well.
That’s not to say other programs took a major step back, as there were a few that were oh-so-close to those highs.
The men’s volleyball team came within an injury to their top player of potentially duplicating the women’s success. All-Canadian power Tim Finnigan had battled through a quad injury all season but it gave out completely in the first set of the national semifinal — and they still nearly beat the No. 1 seeded Camosun Chargers. Camosun then squeaked out a five-set win in the gold medal game over the Titans de Limoilou.
“You have to be proud with how hard that teams fought and tried to work through that adversity,” said Hansen.
The Kings are loaded coming back next season with Finnigan potentially on the bench in a coaching role. They will be led by their three Aussie imports — Luke Brisbane, Adam Terlejski, Regan Fathers — who all showed at the very least signs of all-Canadian potential. Brisbane, a rookie setter, is already at that level earning CCAA and ACAC player of the year honours. The scary thing is to think he will only get better.
RDC’s other big hope heading into the season was the men’s basketball team, but their season ended far short of their goal of going back to provincials. They were upset on the opening day of the ACAC championships by an amped up host team at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, ending those dreams.
The other bit of heart break came from an unheralded source and one of the department’s best stories.
The Queens hockey team was floundering in last place at Christmas time, but turned it around in the second half of the season to finish second in the standings.
They swept the SAIT Trojans in the first round of the playoffs but then lost the final in four games to the NAIT Ooks, who won their third-straight championship.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any real disappointment’s but there was heartbreaks, but that’s sport, there’s always going to be a few heartbreaks,” said Hansen.
The team will undergo a big overhaul this summer.
With at least 11 players moving on through either graduation or transferring out the roster will look completely different in six months. There will also be a new head coach at the helm, despite the work Bob Rutz did to turn the program around this season.
“It’s our model here to have that coach on campus tied in with an instructor position,” said Hansen, noting Rutz works at Eastview Middle School. “It’s the same thing we do with men’s hockey andwith volleyball and what we do in basketball.”
Not every RDC team, however, was at the top of their game. A couple of them are still very much in the process of development.
In the first year under rookie head coach Ken King, the Queens basketball team finished 4-20, though it was with a roster he largely inherited. This will be his first summer of recruiting for the college and he has already landed Danish point guard Eva Bonde.
The Kings hockey team also took a bit of a step back this year. In their inaugural season, they made it to the second round of the ACAC playoffs, beating the MacEwan University Griffins in the first round. This year, however, they were swept by the University of Alberta-Augusta Vikings in the first round. However, the fact they made the playoffs in both of their first two seasons in the league is an accomplishment unto itself — it took the Keyano Huskies three years to even make the post-season for the first time in 2015 after combing for 13 wins in their first two campaigns.
“The focus is on the process and doing your best in excellence and I think our teams demonstrated that again,” said Hansen.
• Nic Dubinsky and Leah Koot were named ACAC athletes of the week on Tuesday. Koot was named tournament MVP in helping the Queens volleyball team to their second consecutive CCAA championship. Dubinsky was named a first team tournament all-star after taking over from Finnigan as the Kings biggest weapon at the CCAA men’s volleyball championships. He almost single handily willed the Kings into the gold medal game but they fell in five sets to the eventual national champion Camosun Chargers.
• The Kings volleyball head coach Aaron Schulha has already added three recruits for next year’s team, including two transfers from the Brandon University Bobcats.
Six-foot-eight, 225-pound middle Ty Moorman and six-foot-five, 210-pound outside hitter DJ McCharles played for the Bobcats last year while they added some depth behind Brisbane at setter with Saskatoon high school product CJ Gavlas.