There’s more than a few teams in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Men’s Volleyball League a bit envious of the RDP Kings roster.
Not only their starting seven but the overall depth.
In fact, there would be a number of teams unable to start a roster as talented of what Kings head coach Aaron Schulha has on his bench.
The Kings have 13 returnees from last year’s silver medal-winning squad, which was upset in the league final by the Briercrest Clippers.
“The guys returning are pretty motivated after the way it ended last year,” said Schulha. “They all came back knowing there will be a lot of battles for playing time which is good and will make us stronger.”
Schulha added only two what you would call new faces this season in rookie middle blocker Owen Langberg out of Hunting Hills and libero Austin Ly of Edmonton.
Ly brings a good deal of experience with him, after playing two years ago at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B.
“He took last year off and spent the winter in Edmonton coaching and playing,” explained Schulha. “He’s quick and will be a strong addition along with JJ (fifth-year veteran Graham). JJ hasn’t had anyone push him the last couple of years so that will make him even better. As well we’re looking at utilizing a two-libero system, which is interesting.”
Langberg is a six-six native of Rocky Mountain House who spent last year at Hunting Hills under head coach Blake Henwood.
“He has size and a good reach and his learning curve is steep,” said Schulha, who did lose Jax Wasylowich from the middle.
“Jax decided to take a year off to work,” Schulha said. “He was a bit undersized as a middle, but could jump and move. He indicated he could be back in the future which would be good.”
The only other two newcomers on the roster are both veterans.
Setter Tom Wass returns after a three-year absence and outside hitter Carter Hills is back after two years with the NAIT Ooks, where he received North All-Conference awards each season.
Wass, who sits fourth all-time in assists in the ACAC, played three years with the Kings before returning to Australia.
He takes over for South Division player of the year Maddux Greves, a fifth-year grad last season.
“Tom is very athletic and knows our system,” said Schulha, who indicated Wass was originally hesitant about returning.
“He’s been working out in Australia with former King Regan Fathers so hasn’t been completely away from the game, but had started playing Aussie Rules Football and had committed to a team.
“But we talked about the possibility of him returning and he decided to come back for at least one more year.”
Wass joins fourth-year veteran Brett Theise, giving the Kings one of the best one-two punches at setter in the conference.
“There’s a lot of great internal battles,” said Schulha. “The game-play stuff in practice is exciting to see with all the battles position-by-position and it starts with the setters.”
Hills joins fellow left-hander Brett Lower as former ACAC Rookie of the Year recipients with the Kings.
Hills won the award in the 2019-20 season and Lower in 2021-22.
Hills received All-Conference nods with NAIT while Lower was on the South All-Conference team in 2021-22. Both were on the right side, but that’s unlikely this year with outstanding hitter Noah Carlson returning.
“Noah is huge for us,” Schulha said. “He put up ridiculous numbers once we moved him to 100 percent opposite (right side). He’s a tremendous athlete, can jump and even with a poor set can make the best of it.”
As a result, both Hills and Lower will be fighting for time on the left side along with All-Conference Colby Nemeth and returnees Nicholas Possingham, Brody Kopec, Dante Furlan and Zach Neufeld.
“Colby played a lot of beach and grass volleyball during the summer and came back strong while Nick saw significant time there last year and will be battling to keep that while Kopec is super athletic and Dante and Zach are both third-year players and have played well when in there.
“It’s going to be a real battle for playing time for sure but a good problem to have. We’ll use the preseason to see how everything comes together.”
The middle will also be a battle with Spencer Purdie returning for a second year after playing at the University of Saskatchewan, along with Dillon Gauci, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, Evan Ockerman and Rylan Teasdale.
“Spencer is back for a second year which will serve him well and both Rylan and Evan did a good job.
“The wild card is Dillon. He’s recovering from surgery and is progressing quicker than I expected. He’s moving good on the attack and is working more on his blocking. It’s now up to his surgeon as to when he gets the green light. Then it will be mostly mental and how he handles blocking alongside an outside hitter as that’s what caused the injury in last year’s preseason.”
With the team’s depth, Schulha likes the fact he can make moves to counteract the opposition’s strength.
“We know what happened last year when one guy beats us (Karym Coleman of BBC) and I feel we have the guys to matchup against him and other guys we have to be aware of and other teams with multiple weapons.”
The Kings and Queens open their exhibition schedule Tuesday against Olds in Three Hills. They host their own tournament Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
“We have a number of games set and it will be exciting to see where we’re at,” said Schulha, who isn’t only thinking of this season.
“It will be interesting to see the number of guys back next year. We’re an older team so I expect a few to move on, but also hope those that can, will stay. Still, I know we’ll be bringing in some new faces and I’ve already been on the recruiting trail.
“There’s a couple good local kids who will be graduating and hopefully they want to come to our program.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com