BONNYVILLE – After a season-and-a-half sidelined due to the pandemic, the Rhino’s volleyball club is preparing for a return to the court for both men’s and women’s teams ranging from U13 to U18.
With so much time spent off the courts since Volleyball Alberta’s last full season, the Rhinos are taking pre-registrations for girls' team tryouts to gauge interest in the club.
The club is also asking boys aged 13 to 18 in the Lakeland area who are interested in playing for the Rhinos to reach out to the organization to determine the possibility of fielding a men’s program for the upcoming season.
Scott Cameron, the Rhinos club president tells Lakeland This Week, in the past the club has struggled to get consistent male participation, which has not been the case for the girls’ program.
“We've had boys programming for a while in the past, but there's never usually quite the same demand year to year. So, we put that feeler out there just to see if there was enough interest to merit us trying to do a boy's tryout and then potentially fielding at least a boys’ team,” says Cameron.
The last consistent Rhinos men’s team aged out of U18 age bracket in 2020, explains Cameron. “We had one men’s U18 team and that group of boys had been in the program for three or four years and formed one little nucleus, all the same age kids with the same coach and they just kind of moved through the system.”
However, with the announcement of the St. Paul Rage volleyball club dissolving earlier this month, the Rhinos have already had youth from the St. Paul area show interest in trying out for their teams.
He says over the years, the Rage and Rhinos have worked hand-in-hand, alongside one another in an effort to make sure both programs were sustainable and that athletes could find a team in their age bracket.
Speaking to St. Paul club’s decision to forgo the season, Cameron says, “The issue that they were facing this year, like many clubs throughout Alberta is access to facilities. Most volleyball clubs will run out of school gymnasiums and just rent as a user group. But because of COVID, a lot of the school boards have elected to eliminate any user group rentals and if you don't have a facility like a Centennial Centre or an Energy Centre in your community, you have nowhere to play right now.”
He adds, “Typically, this time of the year, we are already trying to plan how many teams we're going to be offering at each age group, but we haven't made that commitment. Right now, we're just doing the pre-registration for tryouts to see where those numbers are. We want to try and accommodate as many kids as we can, and give them opportunities to play. So, we're going to be nimble on that... That's always our goal, to try and provide as many opportunities as we can, but it is a challenge this year with facility access.”
The effect of the pandemic on young athletes
Cameron says the cancellation of much of the 2020 and entire 2021 volleyball club season had a devastating effect on young athletes nearing graduation.
“We were able to start up our season 2020 and then COVID struck and most of the teams in our club were only able to play their very first tournament. Our season was first postponed and then cancelled outright and then the 2021 season, it didn't materialize whatsoever, which was devastating for a lot of these kids, particularly the older kids who are looking for opportunities to maybe play in post-secondary and get that exposure,” Cameron explains.
He says coaches and parents are very aware of the loss of opportunities young athletes have faced during the course of the pandemic.
“Opportunities dissolved for them. If you are a kid that was in Grade 12 last year, you never got to play your last year of club,” says Cameron. “Now we are focused on creating those opportunities to get their hands on the ball.”
The Rhinos tryouts for the women’s teams will take place during the first week of December. If the club is able to draw enough interest to hold men’s tryouts, they will likely take place later on to allow more time for registration.
The teams typically begin training after Christmas and run through all of January when the competitive season kicks off in the first week of February.
Alberta volleyball club teams travel to Edmonton and Calgary to compete in large tournaments.
"There's no regular season or league schedule, it's just tournament play. On average, each team will play one tournament per a month right through until April. Then there is an open national tournament in May, which marks the end of our season generally,” says Cameron.