Red Deer Polytechnic Kings volleyball head coach Aaron Schulha received some tough news during the summer losing former ACAC rookie of the year Carter Hills.
“He planned on coming back but they suspended the engineering program he was going into so academically he was forced to move and enrolled at NAIT,” explained Schulha. “You could tell he was disappointed and it’s a big loss for us.
“We’re not sure how it will pan out, but from what I’ve seen I have to be happy so far.”
The Kings won the ACAC title in 2020 but finished well down at the nationals. They have only five players returning.
Six-foot-eight Dillon Gauci of Australia and six-foot-five Cody Boulding are back in the middle, giving the Kings as much depth as any team in the conference.
“They will be big for us,” said Schulha. “They will be the most physical tandem in the league. Dillon is in his second year and by the end of the season two years ago was a solid contributor.”
They will be backed up by six-foot-five Cody Noble of Lindsay Thurber and six-foot-four Evan Ockerman of St. Paul.
Pat Toze, who was a second-team all-star at the nationals, will anchor the left side.
Toze was third in kills in the South Division two years ago and third in the playoffs.
While he is the only veteran among the outside hitters, the newcomers are impressive.
Reece Lehman of LTCHS played three years with the University of Calgary while six-foot-seven Nick Possingham of Australia can fill in a number of positions.
“Reece didn’t get a lot of playing time in Calgary and it seemed natural for him to return home,” said Schulha. “He’s a nice fit and despite being a first-year for us, adds experience.”
Possingham has played both outside hitter spots as well as the middle and setter. He played in a league in Australia with former Red Deer star Regan Fathers.
“I talked with Regan and he has nothing but good to say about Nick,” said Schulha. “He understands the game and has a great feel for the game.”
One of the more impressive additions is setter Maddux Greves of Calgary. Greves played two years with Trinity Western University, winning the USport title both seasons. He took a year off and played two years ago with the SAIT Trojans.
“The year after he left Trinity I talked with him, but it was a natural fit for him to stay home at SAIT,” explained Schulha. “Then after the one year at SAIT, I knew he wasn’t returning so I talked with him again. His girlfriend is playing with the Queens so he decided late to come.
“He comes from great stock as his dad was the setter for the national team for several years and has a solid background at a higher level.
“He certainly will make our team stronger and more physical.”
Maddux will work with second-year Brett These and rookie Jacob Hicks of LTCHS.
“Brett has looked good and came back stronger and more physical.”
The fifth veteran is J.J. Graham, who is slotted in as starting Libero.
“JJ has good ball control and court sense … his volleyball IQ is high and will do a good job of solidifying our serve receive.”
Jack Walton, son of RDP Queens head coach Talbot Walton, will back up Graham.
“Jack is another solid addition, but he’s good iacademically and we’re not sure how long we’ll have him,” said Schulha. “He’s in engineering and may have to move on.”
Overall the Kings have seven players listed as outside hitter with Brett Lower of LTCHS and Kyle Rix of Hunting Hills from Red Deer, Dante Furlan of Calgary and Zach Neufeld of Edmonton.
“Brett is one of the local kids pushing for a starting spot on the right side as he’s left-handed,” said Schulha.
Overall Aaron has seven players out of the Red Deer system.
“It’s nice to have a good group of local kids and next year there are two more we’re hoping to get. It would be nice if the local fans can come in and watch them play. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
The RDP teams could play and have fans if they follow the latest announcement concerning vaccinations.
The Kings play seven exhibition games prior to opening the season against the Kodiaks in Lethbridge on Nov. 12. The two return to RDP on Nov. 14.
While they don’t have a lot of veterans Schulha is confident they will once again challenge for the ACAC title, which will be run slightly different this season.
“They will have a south winner and a north winner and the two meet for the championship and only the winner advances to the nationals. It will be a dog fight for sure, but we have the guys to get it done.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com