By Bob Carter
It looks like flip-flop time in Prince George. Last year the AA College Heights boys advanced to the gold-medal match of the Big Kahuna BC Volleyball Championships before losing to Langley Christian in four sets. The seasoned Cougars received some nourishment during the season from city rival Duchess Park, a younger team that pushed CH to five sets in the zone final.
Getting experience against a more mature squad could pay off a year later for Duchess Park. The top-ranked Condors look primed for big achievements, and College Heights – ranked fifth in AA – could profit from some tough competition on which to build.
If so, it won’t be all coincidence.
Lee Karpenko, last year’s Duchess head coach, and CH coach Jay Guillet were teammates at Prince George Secondary in the mid-1980s and remain close friends.
“We’ve been involved in the community for a number of years,” said Karpenko, who is the principal at Duchess Park. “He planned his season so that his team would be home when ours was. It was set up so that the two teams would play each other a lot.
“We benefitted last year, and they are this year. The big thing is that we want to keep Prince George volleyball strong.”
New Duchess head coach Colin Carson, an assistant with the team last year, brings a background that certainly could help refine the Condors, who placed sixth at the provincials in 2016.
A 2009 Duchess graduate, Carson was an outstanding setter at Thompson Rivers University who went on to play professionally in Denmark. He also has worked with many of this year’s Duchess Park players in camps.
The Condors, who have eight Grade 12s and four Grade 11s, got off to a fast start this fall, winning three straight tournaments in Prince George and taking over the No. 1 spot in the AA rankings from injury-hampered LCS.
“We have some size. We’re a strong team at the net,” Carson said. “But we need to work on the defensive end.”
They also have some players with Team BC experience, including 6-5 middle Cody Boulding, a second-team all-star at last year’s BCs; 6-6 Ryan Hampe, who has switched from the middle to the right side; 6-6 Kyle McKee, a Grade 11 middle and U-16 Team BC player who has been slowed by a recent leg injury; and returning setter Carter Karpenko, Lee Karpenko’s son and a talented soccer player.
Three Grade 12s have been sharing time at power – Max Bast, Matthew Kuk and Malcolm MacDonald.
Carson has no problems with the early high ranking.
“Up here in the past it’s been a bit of an underdog story for us ,” he said, “but any time we get to No. 1, it’s good.”
The coach, though, knows that the biggest in-season tests will probably come later in October when the Condors compete at the Best in the West in Kelowna and the TRU tournament in Kamloops.
“We’ll know a lot more in a few weeks,” Carson said.