It’s officially Kodiaks season, as the new Lethbridge College volleyball and basketball campaigns begin this weekend.
The basketball teams open at home on Saturday, while the volleyball teams are on the road.
The always-competitive Kodiaks basketball teams each got a boost in the form of a transfer from the Canadian university ranks, as both clubs look to take a step forward from last season.
One season after winning the CCAA national championship, the Kodiaks women’s team underwent a massive rebuild last year under rookie head coach Deanna Dotts. The team missed the ACAC playoffs but gained valuable experience they hope to transfer into this season. The Kodiaks return eight players from last year’s roster and have also added guard Juhee Anderson (fourth year, Exercise Science, Cardston), who transfers from MacEwan University and will run the offense from the point guard position.
“This Kodiaks team will play high intensity basketball and will focus on bringing a tough defensive presence,” says Dotts. “Offensively, we have many contributors and any one could be a break-out star on any given night. This team is willing to put in the work to succeed in a tough ACAC south division.”
Local recruit Jocelyn Neilson (first year, General Studies, Lethbridge) from LCI is expected to see significant time right from the get-go, as she leads a group of five rookies.
On the men’s side, the team lost a significant amount of its core, including ACAC all-stars Cory Richardson, Keanu Funa and Colten Murray. In their absence, more is expected of some key returning players, including Michael Clemons (fifth year, Exercise Science, El Paso, Texas), who in just four seasons, has already set the ACAC record for career assists. He’ll be supported by a strong recruiting class that includes Lincoln Anderson (second year, General Studies, Cardston), who joins the Kodiaks after a season of Canada West basketball at MacEwan University, and Orin Porter Jr., a NWAC transfer from Spokane Community College.
“This is a team that is focused on itself,” says Ryan Heggie, who enters his eighth season as Kodiaks head coach. “For our young returners, it’s their time to get busy. The ACAC is a good league and our south division is tough, so we need to be a tough and scrappy team to play against to get wins. Staying together and challenging each other to be successful will be some of the keys to our season.”
The Kodiaks men finished fourth in the ACAC south division last season to qualify for the playoffs. The team finished sixth in the conference tournament, losing by three points, in overtime, in their final game of the season.
It’s a stiff opening weekend test for both Kodiaks teams as they host the SAIT Trojans for a single game. The Trojans men are the defending ACAC champions, while the women’s team finished third in the conference last season. The women’s game tips off at 6 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the men’s contest at 8 p.m. at the Val Matteotti Gymnasium. Admission is free to Lethbridge College students with their student ID, $3 for college employees, $5 for seniors, youth and alumni, and $8 for the public.
Last season, the Kodiaks volleyball teams combined to take the ACAC by surprise, as the teams made the ACAC playoffs in the same season for the first time in 13 years. With strong cores of returning players on both the men’s and women’s teams, the Kodiaks won’t sneak up on anyone this season, but both clubs are primed to position themselves among the best of the ACAC.
The Kodiaks men’s team qualified for the ACAC semifinals for the first time in program history in 2017-18 and finished fourth in the conference. The team should be able to build off that success as it returns its entire starting lineup, while adding a strong group of recruits that will help push the Kodiaks starters and give the team depth off the bench.
“The ACAC south division is loaded with perennial national contenders, and it promises to be an extremely competitive match every single night,” says Kodiaks third-year head coach Greg Gibos, who says his team expects to challenge for an ACAC medal. “This is no doubt the deepest Kodiaks team I’ve had the privilege to coach, and I know we will come together as a team when it matters the most. We are extremely lucky to have these individuals represent our school, culture and program.”
The Kodiaks will be led again by the dynamic duo of Dax Whitehead (fifth year, General Studies, Moose Jaw, Sask.) and Carter Hansen (fourth year, General Studies, Magrath). Whitehead is the Kodiaks all-time leader in kills and enters the season only 169 away from the ACAC record, which is in reach as he recorded 277 kills last season. Hansen led the conference in kills last season with 332, and should move into second on the all-time Kodiaks list this season.
On the women’s side, the Kodiaks went 14-10 last season, picking up eight wins more than they had the previous season. With many of those players returning this season, the Kodiaks hope that the added maturity of having played in the post-season will serve them well over the grind of the 24 game ACAC regular season.
“Our returning athletes were key last year in developing a strong work ethic and they have been able to successfully continue that growth during our pre-season,” says Kodiaks third year head coach Anna Schwark. “The ACAC is looking very different this season, as many rosters have changed, so I think we will have fun learning about our competition and working together this year. Last year, we were able to achieve both academic and ACAC success, and I firmly believe we will be able to continue to build on that foundation this year.”
The team did lose Kristine Ward, who finished in the top ten in the ACAC in a variety of statistical categories. But, with veteran Laura Serafini (fifth year, General Studies, Grasmere, B.C.) leading from the middle, and sophomore Jamie Brown (second year, Natural Resource Compliance, Fort Macleod) moving to setter, the Kodiaks will be able to throw a different look at opponents this season.
Both Kodiaks teams will face strong tests to open the season, traveling to face Red Deer College on Friday and Saturday. The Kings men’s team has won four of the last six ACAC championships and has loaded up as it is the host of this year’s CCAA national championship. The Queens women’s team is the defending ACAC bronze medalist.
On Friday, the women’s game begins at 6 p.m., followed by the men’s match at 8 p.m. The teams then play on Saturday afternoon, with the women’s match at 1 p.m. and the men’s game at 3 p.m. Games can be streamed live on.
2017-18 record: 16-8, second in ACAC south division, fourth in ACAC championships
Coaches: Greg Gibos (head coach, third year), Matt Hemmerling, Matt Herman (assistant trainer)
Head coach in his own words: “We welcome another season full of challenges in arguably the toughest conference in the country. The ACAC south division is loaded with perennial national contenders, and with the national championship being hosted in Red Deer, it promises to be an extremely competitive match every single night. We look to build momentum off the program’s first-ever ACAC playoff win last season. Our entire starting lineup returns from last year, and we look forward to building additional resiliency and confidence in each other. This group of athletes has a special bond, and I know that will carry us through the difficult times that we will certainly encounter. Our recruiting class is also incredibly talented and dedicated, which will only enhance our practice atmosphere and push each other to be better. This is no doubt the deepest Kodiaks team I’ve had the privilege to coach, and I know we will come together as a team when it matters the most. This group of young men have become a family, embracing each other, our ideas and volleyball culture in southern Alberta. We’re extremely lucky to have these individuals represent our school, culture and program. I look forward to watching them continue to grow new skills and get better every day.”
Players to watch:
- Dax Whitehead – left side, General Studies, Moose Jaw, Sask. – One of the greatest Kodiaks of all time, he enters the season sixth in ACAC career kills with 939, and could eclipse the official all-time CCAA mark of 1108; he’s also fifth all-time in ACAC digs with 666; Dax will be leaned on for aggressive attacking, strong serve reception skills and his intense defensive attitude.
- Carter Hansen – right side, General Studies, Magrath – He’s also closing in on some major Kodiaks milestones, currently sitting at 687 all-time kills putting him only 108 out of second all-time in Kodiaks history; he led the conference with 332 kills last season, and could reach 1,000 career kills this year.
- Zach Wikenheiser – setter, General Studies, Lethbridge – A steady presence for the Kodiaks at setter through his first two seasons, this promises to be his break-out campaign as he will becomes the starting setter for the lion’s share of matches. His athletic ability and smart decision making should buoy the Kodiaks potent offensive attack.
What to keep an eye out for this season: The Kodiaks promise to once again be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the ACAC. They have been among the league leaders in digs per set, and this year’s group will continue to relentlessly defend. The Kodiaks will be led by an incredible group of veterans who will continue to help grow and develop the game not only at Lethbridge College, but within the southern Alberta’s volleyball community. The one-two punch of Dax Whitehead and Carter Hansen will lead the offense again this season, with strong support from Mike Hummel, Mike Svab and Tony Albizatti, who each topped 75 kills last season. The Kodiaks strong defensive presence will be led by third year libero and ACAC all-star Matthew Primrose. The Kodiaks will again have a local flair this year with 15 of 18 athletes hailing from southern Alberta. Quinn Buchanan (CCH), Jeremiah Bohnert (CCH) and Michael Kindley (LCI) have all been made noise throughout the preseason, giving the Kodiaks incredible depth that will aid in the grueling and competitive season ahead. Together, the team will work hard to achieve its goal of winning an ACAC medal, while continuing to grow volleyball in southern Alberta.
2017-18 record: 14-10, third in ACAC south division, sixth in ACAC championships
Coaches: Anna Schwark (head coach, third year), Steve Ivan
Head coach in her own words: “This year’s team is comprised of the most physically dynamic and athletic players that our program has seen in a while. A recruiting goal this year was to bring in more height and it is paying off so far. Our returning athletes were key last year in developing a strong work ethic and they have been able to successfully continue that growth during our pre-season. An extremely talented class of freshmen are also showing a strong competitive drive. We are younger than last season, which we know will affect our mental toughness; however, the supportive culture the players have created amongst themselves and their willingness to do the extra work outside of practice to improve will help combat that shortcoming. The ACAC looks very different this season, as many rosters have changed, so I think we will have fun learning about our competition. Last season, we achieved both academic and ACAC success and I firmly believe we will be able to build on that foundation this year. As a coach I am feeling very confident and excited for the season to begin!”
Players to watch:
- Laura Serafini – middle, General Studies, Grasmere, B.C. – she is one of the strongest and most consistent middles in the league, and is expected to continue that role in her fifth and final year.
- Jamie Brown – setter, Natural Resource Compliance, Fort Macleod – In her second season with the Kodiaks, she has transitioned from the middle to the setting position and has been able to make some great forces in the front row; thinks outside of the box as a setter.
- Leeanne Arnott – right side, Massage Therapy, Cypress County, Alta. – A rookie, Leeanne has the highest vertical on the team, hits a high ball and is extremely fast and dynamic on defense, which is unusual for a player of her height.
What to keep an eye out for this season: The Kodiaks game won’t be as left-side heavy this year, which speaks to the talent the team carried last year in that position, but at the same time speaks to the new talents that have been brought in at all positions. The team has a very physical setter in Jamie Brown, who also has the ability to become a force at the net when she’s not taking the second contact. She will be working with Teah Simard, who has proven to be relentless in the pursuit of the ball as a setter. Harper Elwood and Mackenzie Lewicki will step into leadership roles on the left-side, with Morgan Bullerwell and Brooke Ringuette also contributing. Carley Doneff brings a lot of height to the left-side, which isn’t overly common in the ACAC, so the Kodiaks will look to her to change up their game. On the right-side, Sianna Cherweniuk and LeeAnne Arnott will both be useful in setting up the defense with consistent blocking. The middle is athletic and deep, with Laura Serafini leading the pack after finishing second in blocks per set in the ACAC south division last year. Grace Kazanowski and Claire Armstrong will help lead the first line of defense and bring experience from Camosun College and Olds College, respectively. Second year Rae Whitehead has battled back into the mix after an injury kept her off the floor last season. Winston Churchill alumna Maile Funa will gain experience and is expected to work her way through the ranks in coming seasons. In the back row, returner Carmen Nadeau has consistently shown good results throughout the last two years, and Andie Curran has been extending rallies due to her ability to chase down any ball.
2017-18 record: 13-8, fourth in ACAC south division, sixth in ACAC championships
Coaches: Ryan Heggie (head coach, 8th season), Tyson Pushor, Taylor Jetten
Head coach in his own words: “We have lost a lot of key players. Gone are ACAC all-stars Cory Richardson, Keanu Funa and Colton Murray, captains Grady Taylor and Pierce Van Gaalen, as well as Sini Otoa and Cole Crick. That’s a lot of quality student-athlete basketball players, who combined to average 76.6 points per game and 33.1 rebounds per game. As George Jones would say, “who’s gonna fill their shoes?” ACAC all-star Mike Clemons returns and brings his 8.4 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game and 9.5 assists per game averages. Shooting guard Dan Lybbert, combo guard Jackson Kasko, shooting guard Nick Gibb, small forward Trey Bohne and forwards Cooper Hayward and Jett Stef are all returning and are all expected to expand their roles from last season. USports transfer Lincoln Anderson and Orin Porter, a NWAC transfer from Spokane Community College, are both are explosive players on both ends. And Skylar Thompson from Cardston will be a tough post defender for us.”
Players to watch:
- Michael Clemons – guard, Exercise Science, El Paso, Texas – He is already the ACAC’s all-time assist leader and enters the season third in career steals, just 21 away from the all-time record.
- Lincoln Anderson – guard, General Studies, Cardston and Orin Porter Jr. – guard, Academic Upgrading, Incline Village, Nevada – A pair of transfer student-athletes, both made an immediate impact in the pre-season, averaging 20 and 16 points per game, respectively.
- Nick Gibb – guard, General Studies, Lethbridge – A rookie from Lethbridge’s Catholic Central High School, he has really come on lately and is giving the Kodiaks another scoring threat.
What to keep an eye out for this season: The Kodiaks went 4-2 versus CCAA teams in exhibition games this fall, showing that it is capable of playing with anyone in the conference. The team is taking an approach of being “focused on us.” The Kodiaks are going to push to be the best team that it can be. For the young returning players that the club will rely on, coach Heggie says, “it’s their time to get busy.” The ACAC is shaping up to be very tough once again, and the south division in particular presents a tough challenge. The team knows it needs to be tough and scrappy to play against to get wins. The Kodiaks are smaller than in recent years, so offensive ball movement will be key and the team will need to apply consistent defensive pressure. The Kodiaks staying together as a team and challenging each other to be successful will help create a culture than can lead to a successful season.
2017-18 record: 6-15, sixth in ACAC south division, missed playoffs
Coaches: Deanna Dotts (head coach, 2nd season), Craig Price
Head coach in her own words: “We have continued to build on last year’s team and are lucky to have eight returning players. We have added five rookies and two transfer athletes to help round out our team for this season. This Kodiaks team will play high-intensity basketball and will focus on bringing a tough defensive presence. This team is willing to put in the work to succeed in a tough ACAC south division.”
Players to watch:
- Juhee Anderson – guard, Exercise Science, Cardston – A transfer from MacEwan University who plays with grit and intensity, Anderson will be a tough match-up for other teams as she is a multi-faceted player; she brings leadership quality to a young team as she is in her fourth year of post-secondary basketball.
- Courtney (Kwasney) Peterson – guard, Practical Nursing, Calgary – One of three returning starters from last season’s team; she has made strides in her all-around game and is continuing her growth from late in the season last year; she has continued to expand her game in all areas, especially on the outside.
- Jocelyn Neilson – post, General Studies, Lethbridge – A local product from LCI, Neilson is extremely athletic and basketball savvy; she brings additional depth to the team and will make an impact immediately as she is an extremely hard worker and tenacious on the court; she adds a young spark to help push everyone.
What to keep an eye out for this season: The Kodiaks are looking to surprise some teams with their defensive intensity. The team has focused on making a return to the defensive style that was long associated with the Kodiaks, with an “in your face” style. The Kodiaks plan to defend and play fast. It will take some time to adjust to playing as a group, but once the team hits its stride, it will be tough to beat. Offensively, the Kodiaks have many contributors and any one could be a break-out star on any given night.