For the first time in eight years, the Niagara Knights men's volleyball program will have a new head coach leading them on the court when they open up the regular season this weekend against the reigning OCAA champions, the Fanshawe Falcons.
After former head coach Nathan Groenveld was hired as the head coach for the York Lions, the Knights turn the keys over to Tommy Sloan, who is the eighth coach in program history. A year ago, Sloan was the assistant coach with the Brandon University Bobcats women's volleyball program. His impressive resume includes time as head coach of the Keyano College Huskies women's program for three seasons and was a record-breaking player at Keyano College before transitioning into a coach.
Sloan will inherit an impressive roster, one that includes star setter Ben Fillmore (Port Dover) who returns for his 5th season with the program. Fillmore is coming off an extremely impressive campaign from a year ago where he averaged 6.96 assists per set helping pave the way to an OCAA West fourth place finish by the Knights. The team captain will look to continue his impressive play and help his team get back to the OCAA Championship podium. He was a part of the 2014-15 Knights team that made a run in the OCAA Championship and went home with a gold medal.
Also returning to the court are middle blockers Kyle Thiessen (St. Catharines) and Tristan Swinden (Whitby), outside hitters Jaydon Milne (Toronto) and Mitch Sawatsky (St. Catharines), opposite hitters Ashton Fehr (Leamington) and Elijah Bugiardini (Hamilton) and Libero Robert Zalewski (Ingersoll).
Zalewski was extremely impressive in his rookie season, finishing 5th in the OCAA with 2.33 digs per set. His skill and continued experience will be an extremely valuable asset for the Knights this season
The team welcomes a few incoming players in Outside Hitter Nicholas Buckborough (London), Setter Dominic Scibetta (Hamilton) and local brothers Micah Nieuwets (St. Catharines) and Andrew Nieuwets (St. Catharines). The former will be playing as an outside hitter while the latter is a middle blocker.
Sloan says his team is focused on improving their play from a year ago.
"This group has a different level of focus this year and they've all bought in on what our goals and expectations are for the season. We have a good mix of veterans and younger players who are adjusting well to the college level. There's a feeling amongst the team that they didn't achieve what they wanted to last season, so they are hungry and determined to do more this year."
After narrowly squeaking into the playoffs a season ago, the Knights were eliminated in the opening matchup against the Georgian Grizzlies. With a new coach, some key recruits and a slew of returning veterans, the Knights will look to improve and return back to being an OCAA powerhouse.
The Knights begin their season by welcoming the Fanshawe Falcons to the Welland Campus Athletic Centre on Saturday, October 20th. The match is set to begin immediately following the conclusion of the women's game. Admission is free for all students, which admission for the public is $5. The game will be broadcast live at www.goknights.ca/watchlive.