A number of post-secondary volleyball teams down south have a little Yukon sourdough flavour this season.
A total of six Whitehorse men’s players are playing on college and university teams this year in Alberta and B.C.
Exporting their volleyball skills are Mason Grey, Lowell Tait, Michael Hunter, Alberta Spycher, Henry Kedziora and Robin Smith. All of them are first-year players with the exception of Smith, who is a second-year player for the Camosun College Chargers in Victoria.
The leap from playing in the Yukon to a college team is a big one, said Tait.
“It’s a pretty significant jump, that’s for sure, in the level of play and the thinking aspect,” said Tait. “You have to prepare for a new team every weekend and you have to be versatile (to counter) their style of play.
“You have to be more aware on the court. It’s not the same as high school ball where you just go and play – you have to always be thinking. And the speed of play is a lot faster. Guys are a lot bigger and can jump higher.”
Smith played for Red Deer College last season before transferring to Camosun this year. Last year Red Deer finished first in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) league and lost in the provincial finals.
“From high school to Red Deer was a pretty big jump,” said Smith. “Everyone on the team is good, so every practice you have to play your best or otherwise you have no chance at playing that week. Everyone else is always playing well, so it’s tough.”
Smith is playing left-side for the Chargers, who are currently 3-3 this season, and is studying criminal justice.
“This year we’re going to make a push to win PacWest (Pacific Western Athletic Conference),” said Smith. “We think we have the players to win PacWest this year and go to nationals.”
Grey and Tait are playing for the Grant MacEwan University Griffins in Edmonton.
Grey, who is in an arts program, is playing middle and right-side, while Tait, studying business management, is a “red shirt” (a practice player with the team) as a setter.
The Griffins opened the season twice losing to the Red Deer Kings over the weekend.
“It’s definitely a pretty big workload with classes and practices,” said Tait. “That’s one of the things you have to plan for and figure out pretty quick.”
Spycher is playing right-side for the Keyano College Huskies in Fort McMurray, Alta. The Huskies (3-1) are currently in first place for the northern division, fifth overall in ACAC and are ranked 10th in Canada.
“I just love it … being able to continue what I love – also being with other people who love to play,” said Spycher, who is studying mechanical trades.
“It’s really different, starting out coming from an eight-to-10 man team to a 16-to-17 player team,” he added. “Also the calibre of practices. They expect a lot more from you.
“There isn’t any lower calibre anymore.”
Hunter, who is in a Bachelor of Arts program, is playing outside for the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves (1-3).
“Michael is a part of our program this year and has brought a great deal of positive energy to our team,” said Wolves head coach Mike Lauzon in an email to the News. “He is currently training as a left-side and libero as he has good ball control and helps our team passing.
“Michael is a great addition to our team. He trains very hard and knows the work that is expected in an elite program.”
Kedziora is a red shirt at Thompson Rivers University, the home of the WolfPack, in Kamloops B.C
The WolfPack currently has a 3-1 season record and is ranked ninth in the country.
Many of the above players were scouted by their coaches while representing the Yukon at major Games and national championships.
With the exception of Smith, five were on Yukon’s Sub Zero 18U men’s team at the 2012 Canadian Open Volleyball Championships in May.
The team won gold in Tier 3 and finished 17th overall out of 64 of the country’s best 18U teams.
It was the highest a Yukon team had ever finished at the nationals in the 18U men division.
The same five were also on board Yukon’s boys team at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games. The team went on to win Yukon gold for the first time in 26 years in boys volleyball.
Smith captained Yukon’s boys team at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games, which included the other five players in this article. At the Games, Yukon took a set off bronze-winning B.C. and one off Saskatchewan. Both sets were the first Yukon had taken off a province at a major Games competition.
Gray, Tait, Hunter, Spycher and Kedziora also played for Vanier Catholic Secondary’s senior boys team last year. The Vanier Crusaders team went undefeated at the Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament, in the Whitehorse high school league, and at the Yukon Volleyball Championships to become the territorial champs.
The previous year Smith led the Porter Creek Secondary School Rams to a Yukon title as captain and was named tournament MVP at the 2010 Yukon Volleyball Championships. His team also won the Super Volley title that year, with Smith named the season’s MVP.
The six players hope to reunite to represent the Yukon at the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec, next summer.
“We have high hopes for that team since we have so many players playing post-secondary,” said Smith.
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