Written By John Short
Men's volleyball, like all other primary athletics in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, can fairly be described as a "development sport."
The title is justified because all coaches realize that certain players have on-floor intentions that range beyond winning and losing in college competition. One of those men, Doug Anton of the NAIT Ooks, spent considerable time recently in discussion of at least two of the athletes who shared in a generally-successful 2017-18 season will move to university play next season.
Among those who took their opportunities seriously were left-side hitter Spencer Fisher, who heads for the Nipissing Lakers in Ontario, and Cole Burkart, who will line up with the Saskatchewan Huskies. "These men were big parts of the good things that happened in our program while they were with us," the coach said.
"We also know we're going to lose (fifth-year star) Jordan Teliske; he's one of our graduates. In fact, we could lose as much as one-third of last year's roster."
Their departures create certain pressure on the recruiting front, but Anton projected that standout setter Mitch Lewington and hard-hitting middle Devon Klein will turn, as will Australian national junior star Simon Coat. "That's a solid foundation of good players."
The coach presented a casual attitude as he spoke of the Ooks' history of changes from one season to the next. "We're a polytechnic institute, which means we provide unique and opportunities that are great fits for a lot of athletes," he said.
Other athletes. conversely, are not likely to fit so comfortably.
"It's never a surprise in college sports when good athletes choose to move on," Anton continued. "We're always happy for them. In this case, we're losing starters – important parts of the team we put on the field. But recruiting is part of life in college sports. It happens year after year, especially here where a lot of athletes are programmed to be with us for two years."
"We're confident, obviously, that a large number of the athletes we've got coming in will turn out to be solid and valuable parts of what we do at NAIT."
Anton described a coach's job description in two pithy phrases: "adapt and overcome; strengthen your core and adjust."
Last season, in a quarter-final of the ACAC championship tournament, those valuable assets did not totally apply.
"We lost to Briercrest," he said. "Our players were devastated, but Briercrest is a handful for everybody. Their system is to play everything as fast as possible. When it works, as it did in this game, they're really hard to beat."
Especially painful was the realization that regular-season success is rarely remembered after a post-season loss. "How your team presents itself in the playoffs is, too often, how the entire season is often the way the entire year is evaluated. That can hurt," he conceded.
"We got off to a really good (regular-season) start. We were still good after the (Christmas-New Year's) break, too – not as good as in the first half, maybe, but certainly competitive against everybody."
Can a similar solid year be expected in 2017-18, perhaps with another trip to the playoffs? Ongoing and consistent improvement in many aspects of the program suggests there's no reason why not.
2017-2018 Award Winners
Rookie Of The Year – Simon Coat
Leadership – Jordan Teliske
Silver Torch (MVP) – Cole Burkart