Last season saw the return of the Red Deer College Kings and Queens to the Canadian College Athletic Association volleyball throne.
On Friday, their coronation will be complete.
RDC will raise their national championship banners to the rafters at the school’s main gym in between the men’s and women’s Alberta Colleges Athletic Association volleyball games against the Medicine Hat College Rattlers.
In the early 2000s this was a regular practice for the Kings, winning seven straight titles, but this will be the first time since 2007 that they will mark their home opener in this fashion.
The Kings’ championship alumni were quick to send out their congratulations to the players after they won, and that meant as much as anything.
“They know what it’s like and they know how hard it is,” said Kings fifth-year senior Tim Finnigan, of being part of the tradition. “It’s awesome being part of that legacy that they actually built.”
The Kings knocked off host and fellow Alberta Colleges Athletic Association program Briercrest 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-18) in Moose Jaw, Sask., in the gold medal match.
Finnigan said he made sure to fully enjoy the championship, not knowing until this summer that he was going to be back.
“It’s still kind of settling in, but the (celebrating) went all through the summer, I still wear my ring today,” he said. “It will live on for a long time.
“I understand I can’t let it go to my head, we lost a lot of guys, it’s a whole new squad, there will be a lot of challenging adversity coming up.”
But the all-Canadian says he is focused completely on the season at hand and the task of repeat.
They enter Friday’s home opener with a 3-1 (10-4) record and ranked No. 1 in Canada. Their lone loss was in Briercrest two weeks ago and are coming off a bye week.
While there are several returning members of the squad like Finnigan, his brother Anthony Finnigan, Kashtin De Souza, Chase Walper and Justin Lukas, there is enough new blood on the team to keep them hungry.
“It’s a great thing and significant thing for our program and athletic program to have three national championships, it’s nice to be able to celebrate that but at the same time it’s time to move forward,” said head coach Aaron Schula. “Our new guys in the program are well aware of the history here at the college and it’ a motivator for them as well. It’s never a given to win it all and it’s hard to do … it’s time to focus more on this year and how we get back there.”
The Rattlers will not be an easy game for the Kings, sitting at 6-0 (18-1) and as the No. 2 team in the country.
“They’re always scrappy, they’re always tough, they’re well coached … and they’re going to frustrate teams in terms of relentless defence … They’re an aggressive serving team and they have some weapons for sure that can put the ball away,” said Schula. “I would expect a battle both days and hopefully we come out on tip
The Queens will be adding their first CCAA banner to the wall since 1984. After that, Quebec dominated the sport for the next 20 years and then bigger universities in Western Canada took control. It has been a long, hard fight back to the top for RDC.
“Unfortunately we had to wait a long time for it to happen,” said head coach Talbot Walton. “For women’s volleyball to have that opportunity because of those harder circumstances where it was dominated by Quebec and then those bigger schools, for sure (it’s big), but I think it’s neat that the boys team and the women’s team is winning it the same year. To hang banners like that, that’s unbelievable.”
The Queens beat fellow ACAC program Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-19) at Seneca College in Toronto in the gold medal game
They too are 3-1 (10-4) on the year with a No. 1 ranking, however, they also have 10 players back from that championship roster.
Still they had some big holes in the lineup to fill like at the power positions.
Walton likes how they are looking so far.
“This group is going to be a good group, they just need some time to grow and understand that the process isn’t going to happen right away,” said Walton. “We have a new group of people that’s going to have to find their own way to win.”
With Medicine Hat (1-5, 4-17) they face a team that is trying to rebuild their own program back up to the same level it was in 2012 when they made it all the way to the CCAA national championship, held that year at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C., and won by the host Mariners.
“They’ve got a new coach in there, so they’re in a building phase, they’ve got a couple older athletes in their third season and then a lot of young, new athletes that are going through kind of that same process as us,” said Walton. “Luckily we saw them at the Wildrose Classic, we know what to expect from them, but it’s the type of team we stack up well against.”
• RDC will also be raising their women’s curling national championship banner on Friday as well. The Queens — skip Kaitlyn Sherrer, third Julie Primrose, second Courtney Smith and leads Taylor Eno and Jessica Newman — beat the Humber Hawks 9-5 in the gold medal game in Sault, Ont.
• The RDC Queens (1-3) hosts the EDGE Hockey Academy tonight in women’s hockey exhibition action. The Queens are coming off their first victory of the ACAC season, a 6-4 win over the SAIT Trojans on Friday.
• The RDC Kings (5-4-0-1) men’s hockey team has a home-and-home ACAC set with the first place SAIT Trojans (11-1-0-0) this weekend. They’re in Calgary on Friday at 7 p.m. and then at the Penhold Regional Multiplex on Saturday at 7 p.m. RDC swept their two pre-season games in September.
• RDC basketball has a home-and-home set this weekend as well. They’re at Olds College on Friday to play the Broncos, with the women tipping off at 6 p.m. and the men at 8 p.m. On Saturday they are back at RDC at 6 and 8 p.m., respectively.