Knights 3 Kings 1
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — It was always going to be all or nothing for the Red Deer College Kings men’s volleyball team this year.
Despite carrying a No. 4 seed into the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships, the defending champions were still arguably the favourite.
But then they lost all-Canadian power Tim Finnigan in the national semifinal and never recovered, losing 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-13) to the Niagara College Knights in the bronze medal semifinal on Saturday morning.
“(Going for bronze) is always a hard discussion to have with your team, especially as a team that came here with one goal in mind and that was to win the whole thing,” said Kings head coach Aaron Schulha.
The Kings did appear to respond well to losing the national semifinal to Victoria’s Camosun Chargers and their fifth-year captain on Friday night. They rallied to win the first set, but were unable to maintain the momentum and eventually ran out of gas against the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association champions.
Without Finnigan, the Kings leaned heavily on veteran power Nic Dubinsky who led RDC in kills for a second straight match with 16 while adding seven digs and three block assists.
He turned out to be a prudent pickup for Schulha at Christmas time. While overshadowed by the emergence of the Aussie trio — Luke Brisbane, Adam Turlejski and Regan Fathers — he has played his support role flawlessly. Then when called upon to take the reigns, the former ACAC second team all-Conference selection showed he was capable of doing that as well.
“As soon as Tim went down, Nic … took the team on his shoulders and started to provide that older energy and was demanding of the ball, and I think that’s an important lesson for our younger guys moving forward,” said Schulha. “He meant a whole lot. If we had been able to squeak it out (Friday) it would have had a whole lot to do with him.”
Brisbane, who was named the CCAA player of the year as a rookie, finished with 32 assists, five digs and three kills while Fathers had eight kills and 10 digs. The Kings were also without Turlejski who injured his knees in the loss to Camosun.
Dubinsky was named a first team all-star for the tournament while Brisbane was named to the second team.
The Kings, however, will be loaded for next year.
They will be built around the three Aussies while a number of core players like Dubinsky, Kashtin De Souza and Patrick McIntyre should be back with a lot of emerging young talent in reserve.
The foundation for that team was laid this year, in particular by the efforts and leadership provided by Finnigan, who may be back next year as an assistant coach as he finishes up his degree.
“Leadership-wise these guys have been able to learn from Tim and the culture that he brought back to this program,” said Schulha. “Our program has always been relevant, but we had that spell where we weren’t getting back to nationals or getting to where we wanted. For Tim to have his three years with us where we were in the national final for two and there for this one, it means a lot. I think guys have learned a whole ton from him and are able to move that forward with the team culture.”
NOTES — The Chargers won the CCAA championship 3-2 (25-21, 22-25, 25-17, 15-5) over the Titans de Limoilou. Niagara beat the St. Clair Saints 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-15) for bronze.