The toughest decision RDP Kings volleyball head coach Aaron Schulha will have next season is putting together a starting lineup.
Not because he’s short on talent, just the opposite.
Aaron has his entire roster returning from last season, except for one big hole.
Gone is fifth-year setter Maddux Greves, who was a two-time South Division player of the year and 2022 All-Canadian and ACAC male athlete of the year for all sports.
“Maddux is a big loss for sure,” said Schulha, who has two veterans returning in Brett Theise and Jacob Hicks, but was looking for a veteran starter.
Little did he know that would be filled by former ACAC All-Conference setter from Australia Tom Wass, who played three years with the Kings.
“Maddux is hard to replace but Tom contacted me and said he wanted to return. He’s six-foot-three, with long arms and a good jump and strong at the net plus has a great jump float serve. He scored a lot of points for us so will be a great addition. He’s a former all-star and an ACAC gold medalist and won silver at the Nationals when we hosted it (in 2019).
“He’s been out of volleyball for three years but he’s been training at home with (former King) Regan Fathers so he should be a good fit for next year.”
Schulha admitted it’s tough to carry three setters but it’s something that he needed last season.
“It’s hard at times in practice, but we were happy to have them last year when Brett and Maddux were both out at the same time. We wouldn’t have been able to compete in a weekend trip to Keyano and Lakeland without having Jake.”
Hicks led the Kings to a weekend sweep.
“Hopefully the three will make my decision difficult,” added Schulha, who will have more than one tough decision to make.
One of his biggest decisions will come on the outside where he has depth and more depth.
He was solid on the outside early last season with right-side all-star Brett Lower and left side starters Nick Possingham and Colby Nemeth. There was also Brody Kopec, Dante Furlan and Zachary Neufeld.
Then at Christmas, he added Noah Carlson, who was outstanding on the left side.
Aaron also used Carlson in the middle at times in an effort to get both him and Lower on the floor at the same time.
“When it came crunch time we needed to have Noah on the floor and get him involved in the attack as much as possible,” said Schulha. “At times we tried to put together a lineup with both Noah and Lower on the floor t the same time, but we needed Noah on the left side to run a tonne of options.”
Schulha also added middle Spencer Purdie at Christmas and overall the team chemistry seemed to be missing a bit.
“It didn’t flow as well as we needed, but some of that could have been that Maddux was playing hurt a lot with his back and shoulder and wasn’t serving as tough as usual. That took away some of our offence.”
As for the coming season Aaron has stressed to all his outside hitters they need to work on their serve receive during the off-season.
“I talked with all the guys and they all wanted to return, which is great, but we’re extremely deep and there will be a battle for playing time and what they do during the summer will give them the best opportunity to be on the floor.”
Libero JJ Graham returns for his fifth season giving the Kings a solid defender, but what the outside hitters do to improve their back-row defence will also add to the team’s success.
“The more comfortable the guys are in serve receiving and passing the better off we are,” agreed Schulha, who also will have a battle in the middle with Purdie returning along with Evan Ockerman,Jax Wasylowich and Ryan Teasdale.
Ockerman, Wasylowich and Teadale played the first half last season when the Kings lost just once. They were called upon to be the main middles after a knee injury to six-foot-eight veteran Dillon Gauci, who needed surgery.
Dillon is expected to return this season around the Christmas break.
“He was a big loss last year and we’re hoping he’s back in December or early January,” said Schulha. “After surgery, they said he could recover quicker than normal because he’s in such good physical shape, so we’re optimistic.”
Schulha also added Hunting Hills grad Owen Langberg to the group of middle blockers.
“Owen is originally from Rocky Mountain House and played with our club team,” explained Schulha. ‘This year he moved to Red Deer and played with Hunting Hills and is with our U18 club team. We’re deep in the middle, but when we were recruiting him we didn’t know about Spencer as several U Sports teams were talking with him and Dillon’s return was up in the air.
“Plus Owen is six-foot-five or six with long arms and a big jump and we didn’t want to lose him to another school. He will battle for playing time for sure.
The only other recruit — libero Austin Ly of Edmonton — will definitely see playing time. In fact, Aaron plans on using a two-libero system, which allows the liberos to switch in and out during the sets.
“Austin played a year at St. Thomas University (in Fredericton, New Brunswick) after high school but wanted to be closer to home so took a gap year last year and didn’t play,” Aaron explained. “He did play in the V League in Edmonton last summer and will this summer which is made up of former university and college players, so he should be ready.
“It will be nice to run a double libero system like a lot of other teams,” he said. “If one guy is superior on serve receive and the other on defence we can use both in that scenario. It will also keep them fresh.
“As well Austin will be ready to take over for JJ who graduates after this year.
“We do have a lot of depth for sure,” added Schulha. “There will be a battle but the guys are all anxious to make up for last year (finishing second to Briercrest).
“Hopefully it makes my decision-making that much more difficult but we like where we’re at in terms of the depth chart in relation to the other teams. “
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
nice see how add different dynamic for us