Michael Donovan, Evan West, Callum Campbell and Craig Therkildsen are no strangers to success. As some of the country’s best volleyball players coming out of high school this year, they have considerable experience winning at the provincial and national levels with their club teams.
Now joining the Dalhousie University Tigers men’s team, they are anticipated to bring depth to last year’s Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) fourth place finishers.
“All four of those guys have come in and looked really at home on the court with us,” says Tigers head coach Dan Ota, entering his 21st season running the team. “I certainly expect [them] to be challenging for playing real key positions well into their careers.”
Therkildsen, a setter from Aurora, Ontario, brings depth to an already strong position that second-year Quinton Dowling dominated last year. Therkildsen committed to playing for Dal in April of this year.
“For us to big up a player of his calibre that late in the recruiting period […] we felt pretty good about that,” says Ota.
Therkildsen’s club team, the Storm Volleyball Club, are the reigning U17 provincial and national champions. He was also named a Volleyball Canada national all-star in both the 2017 and 2018 championships.
Therkildsen thinks this class of recruits brings “a lot of winning experience [in club careers]” to the table this year — and along with that experience comes a mental attitude of being successful that will have a positive effect on the Tigers.
The Tigers also picked up Callum Campbell, a libero from Calgary. Coming from a province with historically talented volleyball programs, Ota says that Campbell “flew under the radar a little bit in Alberta.”
With experience playing for Team Alberta and the U16 Team Canada Selects in 2017, Campbell is a strong receiver, a skill Ota says is a focus point for this year’s team.
Two players from the London Volleyball Club also committed to the Tigers last fall. Teammates Michael Donovan, an outside, and Evan West, a middle, won U17 provincial and national bronze medals in 2018.
Donovan has connections to Dalhousie already. His older brother, Matthew, played for the Tigers volleyball program for five years and was named an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) MVP in his final season.
Knowing the Donovan family, Ota felt that Michael was a “real good fit [for the team] from a very early point on.”
As arguably one of the top three graduating players in Canada, Donovan is projected to be one of the best players on the Tigers in the coming years. This season, however, he is out with a torn hamstring.
Strong recruiting presence
Three of this year’s four recruits are from Ontario, which continues a trend from the past seven to eight years. About a third of Dal’s roster is Ontario-born players, as opposed to in previous years when the team was made up of predominantly players from Atlantic Canada.
“Developing that real presence in Ontario from a recruiting standpoint is huge,” says Ota, because the team can draw from a higher population of players.
What attracts recruits to play for Dalhousie? Ota mentions that the strong academic programs are a contributing factor. Another draw is the historical success of the men’s volleyball program.
Before the league switched formats in the 2018-2019 season, Dal was consistently the AUS representative at nationals.
That success, says Therkildsen, “definitely attracts people to come.”
In addition to the four recruited players, Dal also has three new faces who came to tryouts and made the roster.
Coming out of high school, Alec Couttreau, an outside hitter from Yarmouth, “made the team on merit,” says Ota. Arcel Siosan, a libero from Whitehorse, “kinda knocked my socks off” at tryouts, says the coach.
Finally, Bruce Aku, an outside hitter, played two years at Brandon University in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
After taking some time off, “he reappeared on the radar real late in the summer,” says Ota. He’ll bring some experience to the young roster.
Room for growth
There are seven new players on the team and over half of the roster is in their second year of eligibility or below.
“With any young team, any young athlete […] there’s going to be probably more inconsistency with how the season goes,” says Ota. “We’re going to have ups and downs for sure. As good and as talented as I think these guys are, we’re not always going to perform at our best.”
Quinton Dowling, one of the captains on the team, says that part of the reason for that is adjusting to a higher training workload — going from practicing a few times a week with a club team to training six times a week. Dowling also says that the pace of play is a faster in the RSEQ, and players in their first year need to adjust to the harder hits.
While he expects periods of struggle this season, Ota says there is room for a lot of growth: there are no fifth-year players on the roster, which means the entire team could be retained for the 2020-2021 season — a rare opportunity in university sports.
Therkildsen, having competed against both Donovan and West in club volleyball for the past six years, is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’m excited to grow with them too and have a nice young group to get better with throughout the years,” he says.