Augustana leans on volleyball family tree
The University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men's volleyball's newest recruits (from left) Ben Linsley, Gergory Kaliel, Evan Richard, Dane Wright and Mark Wonko in Camrose on Friday. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
Sometimes the best recruiting tool is the family tree.
The University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men's volleyball team unveiled their recruiting class for next season and there was a lot of built in familiarity. In particular, the last name Kaliel will be refreshed in red and black as Gregory follows in his big brother Andrew's footsteps from Fawcett to Augustana.
"I was always thinking Camrose coming up because my brother payed here," he said. "So it was one of my first options and when I got an offer I decided it was the right place for me."
Andrew played a major role on the Vikings Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship win over the Red Deer College Kings in 2015, finishing third in kills with 166 and second in digs.
While they are from the same bloodlines they are very different players. Gregory will be starting out in the middle where he played his entire high school career while Andrew spent all five years on the left side. The plan is to move Gregory out to the left side in year two where his six-foot-four, 200-pound frame is a better match, but he will still play a different style than his brother.
"They're totally different," said Vikings head coach Stephen Leggitt. "Greg is a lot more physical. Andy was just cool, calm, collected."
Despite the return of both ACAC North Conference all-stars Lyndon Varga and Duncan McDonald, Leggitt says Kaliel will get a lot of time in his freshman year as the third or fourth middle on the roster which will in turn help acclimatize him to the ACAC before moving over to the left side in his sophomore season.
"It will give us an opportunity give both Lyndon and Duncan an opportunity for a rest," said Leggitt.
That depth will be bolstered at other positions as well. At outside hitter, Evan Richard provides a weapon as a south paw on the right side of the court. This will give Leggitt another option beyond standout rookie Jesse Weber.
The Ardrossan recruit is not a typical big swinger, but brings a more crafty style to the position.
"I'm kind of a utility player. I may not be bouncing every ball but I find a way to put it down and the team the points we need," he said.
Connections helped Leggitt land his setter of the future and to give immediate depth behind current starter Logan Pasishnik, the big catch is that Pasishnik's dad coached Ben Linsley in Saskatoon. The cerebral setter started for Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Games.
"That is huge. There's something to be said for that," said Leggitt.
Linsley is not the most physically intimidating player on the court, instead he uses his strengths to spread the ball out around the court and involve all the weapons in his arsenal. He says making the jump to the ACAC is a big step and he is already preparing for it.
"I've been watching a lot of games, watching a lot of film and working out a lot, just trying to get stronger and better," said Linsley.
This past season was spent breakign in five rookies to the lineup, four of them were regulars on the floor, including Owen Murray, Jesse Weber, Connor Sinnamon, and Thomas Zimmerman. The idea is that this class will be able to join with that class and form the foundation of the team for the next half decade.7
"If you look at the teams that have been very successful in the ACAC this year … they're fourth and fifth-year ball players," said Leggitt. "That experience is huge."
It was also a big recruiting tool. Instead of trying to convince young players that they will fit in with old players or talk them into sitting for two years while waiting for an opportunity, they will get their opportunity immediately.
"That's amazing that sense of belonging and family as a group, that's really important to me and to gain experience together will be a big part of my experience here and I'm very excited for that," said Saskatoon left side Mark Wonko.
He was also attracted to the school because of the education available from Augustana. It was a common refrain from all of the five recruits, including Swift Current middle Dane Wright, who won a provincial championship this season with his high school team.
Wright is looking at a degree in the sciences, in particular the environmental sciences.
"The degree I could get here in a small community and getting to play volleyball as an added bonus, that was perfect for me," he said.
This was not by accident. Leggitt says he has changed his recruiting methods in recent years in order to build those teams that stay together for four and five years at a time. The first thing he now looks at is their marks to see just how committed they are to an education.
"Out of the five recruits I had las year, al five of them are back," said Leggitt. "That hasn't happened here, because before I went after the ball players a lot of the time and I didn't worry about marks too much. Now I want the mid 80s and low 90s."