Kodiaks confident despite heightened expectations ahead of new men’s volleyball season

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WATCH: The Lethbridge College Kodiaks men’s volleyball team is coming off the best year in the program’s history, and with that comes heightened expectations as the ball drops on a new season. Danica Ferris reports. – Oct 17, 2019

How do you follow up on the best season in program history?

That’s the question the Lethbridge College Kodiaks‘ men’s volleyball team will begin to answer as the 2019-20 ACAC season begins this weekend.

The Kodiaks went 22-2 last year, making a memorable run to finish first in the ACAC south division and fighting their way to the ACAC gold medal game, before settling for silver.

READ MORE: Misfit Lethbridge Kodiaks volleyball team ranked second in Canada

So with their sights set on improving upon last year’s results, what is the focus heading into Friday’s opening-night match-up with the SAIT Trojans?

“It’s cliche to say it, but the ball goes up on another season and everyone’s back to being 0-0,” head coach Greg Gibos saud.

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“For us it’s a brand new start. You know, what we accomplished last year doesn’t mean anything in the standings for us this year. In the pursuit of a provincial championship, it means nothing.”

That mindset has been passed on to his team, who recognize that they can take experience and motivation from last year’s silver medal finish, but now they leave it in the rearview mirror.

“We have a lot of confidence going in because we had such a great season,” said fourth-year Tony Albizzati, “but we still use that 0-0 to reset, not have too much confidence, but also just have that fire.”

The Kodiaks will have the opportunity to win a provincial championship on their home court this season while hosting the ACAC Championship.

After last year’s loss, a gold medal win would be even sweeter for Gibos’ squad.

“You have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that we don’t want to feel that way again,” the coach said. “Especially when it’s in our own gym.”

“It’s a big goal for us to get that provincial championship and bring a banner home to Lethbridge.”

Click to play video 'Kodiaks athletes come together in historic volleyball win' Kodiaks athletes come together in historic volleyball win
Kodiaks athletes come together in historic volleyball win – Feb 23, 2018

Thirteenof last season’s 18 players have returned, with two starters — Matt Primrose and ACAC all-time kills leader Dax Whitehead — the major off-season losses.

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For Gibos, the blend of veteran experience and youth is an exciting one.

“We know they’re going to lead by example,” said Gibos, “it’s always nice to have a little bit of older leadership in the room because they know what it takes to get where you want to be.”

17 players on this year’s roster hail from southern Alberta, a testament to how the Kodiaks have influenced the growth of volleyball in the region, says Gibos.

READ MORE: Lethbridge College Kodiaks men to look to secure playoff berth

For the players that have been around for a few years, it’s easy to recognize how far the game has come in Lethbridge.

“My second year, we had practice times in the summer and there would be two, three guys coming out,” said fifth-year Mike Hummel. “This past year, it was two courts and 28 kids — 30 kids sometimes — just out playing volleyball for fun.”

Hummel, a Picture Butte local, recognized that a championship in his final year of college volleyball would be special.

“Yeah it would be really sweet, to actually come out with that,” he said.

“We were so close last year,” Albizzati said. “and it hurt definitely to lose, but going to national would just be unreal… it would be amazing.”

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The Kodiaks begin the 2019-20 season Friday at home against the SAIT Trojans at 8 p.m.