Looking to surprise

Katie Brickman
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Locals headed to National Team Challenge Cup

Mark Dodds wants his team to relish the role of being the underdogs.

Brandt Thul of the Central Cyclones watches as his spike floats in the air after Payton Denet (12) and Eric Forbes (7) blocked it during senior boys volleyball action this season at Central. Times-Herald photo by Katie Brickman

Dodds is the coach of the under-19 men’s provincial volleyball team that is headed to the National Team Challenge Cup (NTCC) next month.

“It is tough. Saskatchewan, traditionally, at this age group is a little bit weaker. We have geography, population … all those great excuses,” said Dodds. “But, with the group that we have here, we definitely can be a surprise team at the tournament.”

Four Moose Jaw athletes — Brandt Thul, Brennan Goski, Aidan Saladana and Jonathan Phillips — will be part of this team that is headed to Gatineau, Que.

“The four guys from Moose Jaw were quite strong and the decision to keep them definitely wasn’t a difficult one,” said Dodds.

There was a one-day tryout on May 24 with 20 athletes competing for 14 spots on the roster.

“There is a smaller number of athletes at that age group,” said Dodds. “I had a pretty good idea of what each individual could bring after watching them through the club season and so on.”

Thul and Saladana are finishing up their Grade 12 year at Central Collegiate and both played for the Cyclones volleyball team, which won provincials.

“Brandt brings more of a presence on the court. He seems to be a pretty good leader and has a very good knowledge of the game,” he said. “Aidan is a really big kid and very physical for a Grade 12 kid.”

Goski graduated last year from Riverview, but did not play volleyball this year.

“I recall him from two years ago when he played club and he is a very athletic player and jumps really well,” said Dodds. “When he came to tryouts, he had been training with the University of Regina. I talked with the coach about how the training was going and seeing him at tryouts; he was in very good condition for having taken a year off.

“He was one of the highest jumpers at camp and that is definitely one of the biggest reasons why he made the team.”

Phillips was out at Briercrest College and Seminary this past year and was learning under volleyball coach Nigel Mullan.

“He is actually coming off a big injury, which I wasn’t aware of. He had a knee injury. So, he started the year off injured and started training again after Christmas,” said Dodds. “He had a pretty good second half in terms of training, but he just red-shirted the year.”

Despite not playing competing in games, Phillips still had a strong tryout.

“He also has a very high volleyball IQ. He reads the game well and plays very good defence and passes well,” said Dodds. “He has experience and good veteran presence on the court in tryouts. That is the biggest thing and why he made the team.”

The NTCC is held every year in Gatineau at the national training centre. The tournament was instated in 1986 to build the bridge between the needs of the national teams and short-term objectives of the Volleyball Canada regions.

Volleyball Canada uses this event to identify potential future athletes. The tournament runs from July 16 to 20.

“Where we end up is where we will end up,” said Dodds. “I think, for me, the biggest thing for these guys is preparing them for the next step of volleyball.”

Two other Moose Jaw natives will be on provincial teams. Diana Lumbala made the Under-17 women’s team and Stephanie O’Bryne is on the Under-16 team. Both of the women’s teams will compete at the training centre in Winnipeg.

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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