Can Victoria survive as volleyball mecca?

Lack of Vikes program a “factor” in number of CIS, national players produced from the South Island

Lambrick Park senior volleyball players Chelsea Strandlund and Tyger Holt plan to continue playing at the college level after high school

Lambrick Park senior volleyball players Chelsea Strandlund and Tyger Holt plan to continue playing at the college level after high school

Volleyball player Tyger Holt is in the decision process.

The senior at Lambrick Park secondary is among the top female university prospects from Greater Victoria this year.

Two months ago Holt captained the Lambrick Park Lions to second place at the AA volleyball provincials. It was the second straight year the Lions made it to the final, only to come within one win of the title.

She’s 6-foot-2 with the potential to be a middle blocker in the NCAA.

When you’re being recruited, you can afford to be choosy (somewhat), and Holt has yet to decide. Holt’s list has NCAA as well as Canadian options, as she weighs the determining factors for each.

“Geography, scholarship, affordability and strength of program all come in to play,” she said.

One school Holt doesn’t have to factor in is the University of Victoria. It’s been 15 years since the school spiked its varsity volleyball program. But in spite of the program, or lack thereof, the South Island continues to pump out elite volleyball talent.

“If UVic had a decent program it would be high on my list especially because living at home would make it so affordable,” Holt said.

“I think a lot of girls who have left (town for varsity volleyball) would have gone to UVic.”

There’s no rush for Holt, who is currently in the midst of a stellar basketball season. Her Lambrick Park Lions are ranked second among AA schools in B.C., a favourite to win the Island basketball championships in February.

Across town, the situation is similar for 6-foot-7 Alex Swiatlowski.

The big man is providing much-needed height to the Oak Bay Bays basketball team. But it’s on the volleyball court that Swiatlowski is a killer.

Last week UBC-Okanagan proudly made official what many already knew, that they’d recruited Swiatlowski, captain of the AAA provincial champion Oak Bay Barbers.

Lesser-known because volleyball plays second fiddle on the high school hardcourt, Holt and Swiatlowski are the face of Victoria’s graduating class of volleyball athletes.

Taking charge

The Camosun Chargers men’s and women’s volleyball teams want to be a development program pushing players to the next level. But without a nearby CIS team, they’ve become more than that.

In 2010, on the heels of his team’s second-straight provincial championship, Chargers men’s coach Charles Parkinson called Victoria a “volleyball vacuum.”

“Not having a CIS team in Victoria is really unfortunate. Particularly a school the size of UVic.

Parkinson points to the fact Victoria is able to sustain a trio of rep youth volleyball associations. But the former national player with Team Canada sees the big picture and wants to a constant stream all the way from middle school to the Olympics.

“In terms of impact of sport development, it’s unquestionable not having the highest level an athlete can participate at in your home town is detrimental,” Parkinson said.

“Victoria is a mecca for volleyball, with great players. But it’s not as big a pool of players as it used to be. The lack of a CIS team isn’t the only reason but it is a contributing factor.”

UVic’s athletics division recently said it has “no immediate plan to bring varsity volleyball back.” Instead the school will continue to focus its athletic resources on the existing 16 varsity teams.

After pulling out of what was then the CIAU in 1998, the Vikes tried to keep a Tier II team, but ran into the same challenges with travel and administration costs, finally cutting it altogether in 2003.

However, volleyball remains one of the largest sports in the CIS’s Canada West with 11 teams in each of the men’s and women’s conferences. Soccer has eight men’s teams and 10 women’s sides, while basketball has 14 each.

Lethbridge is the next biggest school in the Canada West not to have a volleyball program, though newcomers UBC-Okanagan (Kelowna) and Thompson Rivers University (Kamloops) both do. Vancouver Island University wants to be in the CIS but the newly upgraded institution has been denied, mostly due to an inadequate facility.

UVic, meanwhile, is in the midst of developing a new multi-million dollar gymnasium that would make a lovely home for a new volleyball team.

But as much as a CIS team would help, it’s clear the volleyball scene in Victoria is just fine on it’s own. With championships and national players, there’s plenty of proof the development system of clubs, middle and secondary schools is working.

Pumping out the players

The Chargers haven’t won a national volleyball title, but the school has produced multiple CIS, NCAA, professional and national level players.

Most notable is Josh Howatson, an Oak Bay High grad who went from the Chargers to becoming CIS male volleyball player of the year (2007) with Trinity Western University.

UVic was never an option for Josh or his younger brother Marc, a national team prospect.

Former Vikes coach Doug Reimer has led the UBC Thunderbirds women’s team to four straight CIS championships.

An All-Canadian setter with the Vikes in the early 1980s, Reimer coached at UVic from 1985-87.

“Selfishly,” Reimer admits, “I wouldn’t want to compete any harder (in recruiting) quality Victoria players.”

But Reimer would be supportive if the Vikes were to renew the program, and believes they would do very well.

“We might lose a few players, but it would give a chance for local players to play.”

Athletes exported

  • The UBC Thunderbirds women’s volleyball team includes 2010-11 CIS female volleyball player of the year Shanice Marcelle (Spectrum) and Jessica von Schilling (Belmont).
  • Going to the Camosun Chargers men’s team next year are “Ryan Marcellus (Oak Bay High), Lucas Dellabough (Lambrick Park Lions) and Lachlan Dolson (Claremont secondary).
  • Chargers moving on: Aleks Saddlemeyer to Thompson Rivers University; Devon Parkinson and Martin Reader to national beach team; John Galloway, Colin Lundeen and Matt Carere went pro in Europe; Davis Proch is hoping to transfer to CIS next year.

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