Vikings youth delivers in split with Huskies
The future is bright for the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men’s volleyball.
The Vikings showed what they are capable of this weekend with a split over the No. 8-ranked team in the country, in fact, they were one set away from a sweep of the Keyano College Huskies.
“In the fifth (set) the fight was spectacular ... to fight like that, it just says so much about this team.,” said Vikings head coach Stephen Leggitt. “When these guys really learn to fight and the rookies get strong and have a little bit of stamina, the game’s going to become so easy.”
The Huskies were undefeated and had only dropped three sets in six matches coming into the weekend series. On Friday, they lost all three sets they played in a 25-23, 27-25, 25-21 Vikings victory. Augustana kept rolling on Saturday, winning the first two sets 25-22 and 25-23, before losing steam and dropping the final three 25-18, 25-20 and 15-10. They did this with four freshmen occupying a lot of floor time and excelling against a Keyano roster filled with fourth- and fifth- year seniors.
Coming into the weekend, the young Vikings had just one win in six matches and were last in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
“We’re now 2-6, but we’re easily a 6-2 if not a 7-1 or 8-0 team based on where we are, we just needed to find that chemistry and we found it,” said Leggitt. “The win on Friday against a nationally-ranked team … it’s a huge boost, it’s a huge step. We’re getting there. It’s one step on a long journey. This program with the youngsters … is built for three, four, five years down the line and we’re going for that. I’m excited.”
On Friday, first year right side Jesse Weber had a team-high 10 kills, while fellow 18 year olds Connor Sinnamon had seven and Owen Murray had four to go with four digs and an ace. On Saturday, Murray had 10 kills while Weber had seven and four digs and rookie libero Thomas Zimmerman had a team-high nine digs.
Fourth year Viking Lyndon Varga did lead the team with 11 kills on Saturday to capture player of the game honours, but the Vikings are only going to go as far as their youth takes them this year.
Weber has been their most consistent freshman this season and at a key position, as the only natural right-side hitter listed on the roster.
The Athabasca native is second only to Varga in kills with 60, just four behind the star middle, and has the potential to be even better if he can improve his attacking efficiency as he has 40 errors on 149 attempts.
“(Beating Keyano) was a great feeling,” said Weber. “Coming into the game we had no expectations, we were just there to play and we came out on top, it was really good.”
Weber is currently enrolled in the biology program and chose to come to Camrose because of the affiliation with the University of Alberta. In the process, the six-foot-four, 175-pound rookie is getting an education in volleyball as well.
He looks at the collection of young players and sees them as a group that can grow and progress together.
“It was tough at the start, but now I feel it coming together and I feel like it’s going to be even better as it goes on,” said Weber.
• The Augustana women’s team rebounded from a tough weekend against The King’s University Eagles to sweep the Huskies with a pair of 3-0 wins. The Vikings won 25-13, 25-23, 25-20 on Friday and 25-19, 25-20, 25-19 on Saturday, as they improved to 5-3 (17-12) on the season and into a three-way tie for second in the ACAC North Division with TKU (5-3 (18-12)) and NAIT (5-5 (21-18)).
“Our whole focus this week has been trying to pay attention to what we do and not even worry about the other side,” said Vikings head coach Greg Ryan. “They didn’t panic and try to run around play the other (team’s) game, they just played our own game. We ran the middle a ton and it really paid off, because we’re really good at, we probably have the two best middles in the conference.”
Rae Metrunic led Augustana with eight kills while Brooke Lindmark had seven kills and eight digs, Rebecca Petrie had seven kills, and setter Karen Wagner had 15 assists and five digs on Friday. Kiana Mah had six kills and 12 digs to lead the Vikings on Saturday while Rebecca Petrie and Lauren van Dyke also had six kills and Wagner had 13 assists.
The next big step for Augustana is improving their production from the service line.
“We’re good at hitting spots … now we need to alternate short, long, and do different things with the ball,” said Ryan.
Up next for the Vikings are a home-and-home set with the NAIT Ooks this weekend, playing in Edmonton on Friday and in Camrose on Saturday, the women’s teams playing at 6 p.m. and the men to follow at 8 p.m.