Despite finishing third at the Nationals last season the RDP Kings volleyball squad returned this year with a bit of a bad taste in their mouths.
To a man, they feel they should have been at least in the final.
They drew the host Limoilou College in their opener and with left side Reece Lehman suffering from a knee injury it didn’t go well.
“Reece was one of the main reasons we won the conference and showed a lot playing with a knee injury that we later found out he needed surgery on,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha. “It would have been interesting if he was healthy.”
The Kings have an impressive 10 players returning and added a recruiting class second to none.
Four of the six new faces in camp played U Sport with middle Jax Wasylowich of Hunting Hills and middle Rylan Teasdale, who played with Team Saskatchewan, the only two just out of high school.
“It’s a different dynamic,” said Schulha. “A couple of the guys fell into our lap late, but they know the strength of our program and I dealt with most of them when I was recruiting them out of high school so they know me and know what we offer.
“Things just didn’t work out for them and they’re back here. It’s a good fit for them academically and in terms of their career and family and playing for one of the best college programs in the country.”
All four players who transferred in from U Sport are local products — outside hitter Brody Kopec from Notre Dame, outside hitter Noah Carlson from Sylvan Lake and left side hitter Colby Nemeth and middle Spencer Purdie from LTCHS.
Kopec has been away from the game a couple of years after playing at Thompson Rivers in Kamloops while Nemeth played two seasons with Trinity Western University, Carlson was at UBC Okanagan and Purdie with the University of Saskatchewan.
Purdie and Carlson aren’t eligible until after Christmas.
“They will be a nice additions for the second half and having them practice the first half will only make us better,” said Schulha. “Being across from them in practice will force our starters to work that much harder.”
The Kings have some of the best players in the country returning, including Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference male athlete of the year for all sports, setter Maddux Greves and Brett Lower, who was the rookie of the year in the South Division.
“Maddux is in his fifth year, team captain and what he did last year speaks for itself in terms of the service end of things and his setting,” said Schulha. “He plays great defence and works his tail off which rubs off on the rest of the team.”
Maddux was second in assists per set last year at 9.29 and led the league in aces per set at 1.05. He set an ACAC record with 14 aces in a three-set win over Ambrose late in the season.
Lower stepped into the starting lineup early in the season because of injuries and never left. He placed sixth in the league with 3.14 kills per set and was fourth in kills with 185.
His strong play gave Schulha an opportunity to move Australian native Nick Possingham to the left side when a spot was open at Christmas.
‘Nick showed enough on the left side and Brett enough on the right side to not mess around with that combination,:” added the veteran RDP coach. “Left side is the best for Nick and the best for the team.”
Setters Brett Theise and Jacob Hicks are also returning, giving the Kings as much depth as any team in the conference.
“Maddux likes to be pushed and all three worked together on extra reps over the summer. All three are more than capable.”
Despite losing Cody Boulding, who moved to U Sport, the Kings have depth in the middle and even more once Purdie is eligible.
Dillon Gauci returns in the middle along with Evan Ockerman, joining Teadale, Purdie and Wasylowich.
“They all provide different dimensions and when Spencer comes in and with Dillon we could have two six-foot-eight middles.
Kings also have libero JJ Graham returning along with hitters Zach Neufeld and Dante Furlan
‘It’s certainly nice to have 10 guys back … I can’t remember the last time we had that many,” said Schulha. “It made recruiting that much easier then we were able to add a lot of fire power in key pieces coming in alongside what we already had.”
Despite their talent Schulha expects the team to play with urgency and to work hard.
“We want a team that’s hard to play against and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case.”
The Kings played one exhibition game, using their entire lineup in a 3-2 win over Olds. They join the Queens in hosting their annual tournament this weekend. They face The Kings University at 12 noon and Keyano College at 7 p.m. Saturday and SAIT at 11 a.m. and Olds at 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Kings visit the University of Alberta Golden Bears Thursday for a training day. They open their regular season Oct. 14 at Briercrest.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org