Technically, outside hitter Michael Donovan of the Dalhousie University Tigers men’s volleyball team played in the 2019-2020 season. It was just for one set during one match. He missed the rest to injury.
Along with that season, Donovan missed 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But on opening weekend this season, hosting Maritime rivals the University of New Brunswick Reds, he declared his arrival on the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) volleyball scene.
“It was everything I imagined and more,“ Donovan said. “I was a bit nervous going in but those nerves went away pretty quick with the excitement that we were playing.”
In two matches at the Dalplex on Oct. 15 and 16, Donovan registered a combined 44 kills, four service aces and 51.5 points. After one week of play, he led the RSEQ in each of those stats. Dal and UNB split the weekend’s matches, each by scores of three games to one.
“I feel confident after this weekend seeing how our team played together,” Donovan said. “Once we do some improving, we have a good chance to do well in the conference.”
Powering through a busy few months
To make Donovan’s season debut even more bizarre, he had just barely got back to Dal after nearly a month in Europe for the FIVB U21 Men’s Volleyball World Championship. With Team Canada, he finished eighth on his team in points as the squad finished tenth in the tournament hosted by Bulgaria and Italy.
Not long after their final game on Oct. 3, Donovan travelled back to Halifax to prepare for the Tigers season and catch up on work in his engineering courses. Safe to say he’s had a lot on his plate over the last couple of months.
“He only had a few days of training with us before the UNB weekend. He was running out of gas a little bit at the end but played pretty well for a guy who was playing his first full league match,” Tigers coach Dan Ota said of Donovan’s last few weeks. “I don’t think he was even close to what he was capable of [against UNB] even though he was definitely one of, if not the top player out there.”
Although this would count as Donovan’s official rookie season, eligibility-wise, he’s been with the team for a while, including over much of the cancelled season. Before trying out for Team Canada in the summer, he worked regularly with Ota as part of his preparation, which gave the two plenty of time together to discuss the team.
“[Ota] expects me to be a high-volume guy, given where the team is at now,” Donovan said of their discussions before the preseason. “I think I can help the team in both the front row and back row, plus I can score points for us.”
“We had a lot of discussions as he was getting ready for the tryouts, including a lot of one-on-one time on the court,” Ota said. “He’s known for a long time I think he would be an important part of our group and he’s used to being a high-leverage kind of guy. He knew that was the kind of role we had envisioned for him.”
After facing UNB four times in the preseason and twice more to open the regular season, Dal won’t face them again until this coming February. In fact, the Tigers travel to Montreal next on the weekend of Oct. 30, for their first games in Quebec since February 2020.
No matter where or who against, Donovan said he is fine with the busy workload, even between continents. The time missed between injuries and COVID-19 recently has shown him not to take any matches, games or points for granted.
“[The time off] I think has changed my mindset about playing in general and being sure to enjoy every moment I have out there since you never know when you might not be able to play. I know how much it sucks not to,” he said. “I’m really appreciating now every minute I have on the court.”