By Herald on January 11, 2021.
So how strong was the Lethbridge College Kodiaks men’s volleyball team last year?
Put it this way, not even a pandemic could stop them.
In 2020, program history was made as a result as the Kodiaks Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference silver medal – earned on home court at the Val Matteotti Gymnasium, albeit with a tough loss to the Red Deer Kings in the gold medal game – set the table for their first Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Championship berth.
Of course, that was nearly denied by the COVID-19 pandemic that blew up worldwide just as the Kodiaks touched down in Fredericton, New Brunswick — the site of the CCAA championship — in mid-March.
But as the pandemic shut down sports across the country, the teams assembled in Fredericton kept swinging in front of eerily empty gyms and the Kodiaks narrowly missed a national medal, losing 3-2 to Volontaires de Sherbrooke in the bronze medal game.
Still, Todd Caughlin, the Kodiaks Manager of Athletics and Recreation Services, noted it was pretty cool to be a part of the last sporting event taking place on the continent before COVID shut everything down.
“Going out to New Brunswick and playing on that Saturday and knowing that we were literally the only sport in North America that was competing on March 14,” said Caughlin. “Obviously, it was a tough week because we flew out there on the Sunday and on Tuesday is when it really started all hitting. It was pretty stressful times, but it was nice to see the guys step up, being able to beat Red Deer (to get to the bronze medal game) and getting a little bit of revenge. But you know what? The evolution of the program was amazing.”
The ACAC silver and nationals berth capped off a season that saw the Kodiaks go 20-4.
“The nice part about it is obviously watching the evolution and of course something that is a little bit closer to my heart is I’d like to think I helped in starting that men’s volleyball evolution way back when I was coaching back in 1993 to 1997,” said Caughlin. “So being able to actually see that come to where it was, I saw that packed gym on a Saturday night (in the ACAC gold medal game at home) and just the excitement of the building, it was something I’ll never forget. I was watching a bunch of my video clips from that and smiling the whole time.
“Obviously, it was a year of firsts for them, their first provincial silver medal, but earning that berth into the national championship was also a first.”
While the men’s volleyball team avoided it, there were COVID casualties for the Kodiaks in 2020, including the men’s and women’s futsal and indoor track and field programs getting sent back home the same weekend the pandemic crackdowns were handed out and with the volleyball team on the east coast.
“They were pretty much on the bus and started driving and I had to call them from New Brunswick and tell them to turn around,” said Caughlin. “It was definitely a gut punch moment for those two sports. We expected them to medal. All four teams were prepared and in a place to do it.”
The pandemic also meant the cancellation of the ACAC men’s and women’s soccer provincials the Kodiaks were supposed to host in Raymond at Comets Stadium at the end of October.
On the plus side, the Kodiaks have retained the right to host in 2021 from Oct. 28-31 in the exact same place and venue.
But before COVID wrecked havoc two-and-a-half months into 2020, the Kodiaks still racked up some kudos.
That included double berths in the ACAC men’s and women’s basketball championships.
The men were dealt a tough loss to the NAIT Ooks in their first game and ultimately took fifth, while the women lost their first game of the weekend to the Lakeland Rustlers, but won their second game on default against the University of Augustana Vikings due to an ineligible player.
“For men’s basketball, obviously it was a little bit of a tough pill to swallow because going in and playing the way we were and then having a really tough quarter-final match against NAIT, who played the game of their lives,” said Caughlin of the men’s team that went 20-1 in the regular season. “But to come around on the backside of the tournaments and be able to get fifth place, that’s a hard thing to do. But they show their resilience and finished the season off with a win, which not a lot of teams can say they did.”
In women’s volleyball, Kodiaks earned the Comeback Team of the Year thanks to their solid start to 2020 that saw the team go 7-5, including winning five of their last six games.
Their 9-15 record gave them fourth in the ACAC South Division and normally would have earned them a playoff berth, but the fifth-place Medicine Hat Rattlers grabbed the final post-season spot as ACAC championship hosts.
“They turned it around in January and essentially qualified for the championships. But, unfortunately as the fourth seed they lost out to the lower seed who was the host,” said Caughlin. “They found their stride and they finally found their groove and turned it around. I would not have wanted to be in that opening round against them if they had made the tournament.
“There was not a disappointing team in the Kodiaks from last year. What an amazing year, it was exciting.”
Away from the court, Caughlin was named the ACAC Athletic Director of the Year in April — the first for Lethbridge College — while the athletes maintained their academic standing even if they weren’t able to do as much community work due to the pandemic.
“Obviously, we weren’t able to go to the level we normally strive for in the sense of community service and activity,” said Caughlin. “But on the academic side of things, we ended up getting 50 CCAA National honors, which is incredible.”
The Kodiaks also had a little over 60 ACAC academic honours.
“That is our first pillar, academic accountability, and we owned it again. We had the second-highest total in the nation of the CCAA honours,” said Caughlin.
Over a week into 2021, the focus is to return to a normal schedule in September and perhaps get some exhibition games in the spring.
“We have a handful of ACAC schools that have very good support from their administration like we do and they want us to try,” said Caughlin. “But obviously we will have to work within the restrictions, but we’re hoping to get in some sort of play. Our primary focus has shifted to hopefully having a full start come September. That is the primary part of the focus, but we sure haven’t given up yet on the exhibition play for the winter term. We can play exhibition basketball in April if we want. So that’s one of the perks, at least it’s open. We’re going to follow all of the rules and regulations and we’re going to keep everybody safe, because that is paramount, and just hope.”
Follow @DWoodardHerald on Twitter