Arts & Life
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Anyone still underrating Liam Kristjanson should be awfully quiet right about now.
Putting a ceiling on the Oak River product’s volleyball potential is asking for him to shatter it.
Not two years after being left off the top 10 players in the province in the Winnipeg Sun coaches’ poll his senior year at Crocus Plains, Volleyball Canada tapped Kristjanson to join the junior national team (under-21), and he’ll take part in virtual training sessions this summer before returning to the University of Winnipeg for his sophomore season of Canada West action.
"I got the email at work from Volleyball Canada … I assumed it was some sort of informative session about the restart of volleyball activities. Got home and took a closer look and it was an invitation to be part of Team Canada," Kristjanson said.
"I was taken aback. That was something I felt I wouldn’t have an opportunity to do or take a shot at this summer.
"The fact that I got that recognition and got the nod to get some really valuable experience with some talented coaches … this is a great opportunity for me to develop."
In a regular summer, Kristjanson would be off to train with the national team full time in Gatineau, Que.
Instead, virtual chats with Volleyball Canada coaches and trainers will make up a significant portion of the summer, with an outside chance of playing a few events before players return to school.
While Kristjanson may not take the court with a Maple Leaf on his chest this season, he knows he’s on a good path.
"Playing on the national team has been a dream of mine for quite a long time," Kristjanson said.
"Just the opportunity to get on there right path and start developing some relationships with the strength and conditioning people at Volleyball Canada and seeing what it is they want, getting on the track that will make me the best volleyball player I can be in their eyes.
"Being able to develop at the highest level we have in Canada is really exciting."
Kristjanson is coming off quite the rookie year with the Wesmen. The six-foot-nine left side saw a ton of floor time at all three attacking positions as Winnipeg battled injuries to key starters throughout its 12-10 campaign.
Kristjanson piled up 95 kills, 22 blocks and 30 digs in 61 sets, with a .198 hitting percentage.
Naturally, he earned a Canada West all-rookie team nod.
"My first year (I grew) leaps and bounds. It was an excellent year for my development," Kristjanson said.
"Coming out of high school I wasn’t even a top 10 player in the province. From that to this point, being named to the junior national team is a testament to the development you see in this University of Winnipeg program.
"With Larry McKay as a coach, all the things he taught me have been leaps and bounds in my development, working on every single aspect of my game and making me an astronomically better volleyball player."
Kristjanson expected to line up at right side as he knew his passing needed work, but found himself as a middle blocker at times, trying to read some of Canada’s best setters on a nightly basis.
He said every aspect of his game improved throughout the season, but he saw the biggest strides in his blocking game.
Winnipeg narrowly missed a quarterfinal matchup against Brandon (13-9), but snagged the No. 6 seed and visited UBC (15-7) in Vancouver for a best-of-three series. The Thunderbirds made quick work of the opener, but eked out a five-set win to send the Wesmen home two rounds short of the eventually cancelled national championship tournament.
"UBC has an excellent team," Kristjanson said.
"We gave them all we had and as disappointing as it was to lose, we left it all out there on the court in our second game, did all we can do and I’m proud of our performance and the effort we put in."
From the family farm to the heart of the Manitoba capital, Kristjanson enjoyed his time on and off the court learning how to navigate life as a university student.
"Lots of the veterans, upper-year guys are intense but patient," he said. "They want the best out of me and see the player I can be and demand that from me, but at the same time they understand this is a big transition.
"They’re also just great people … I plan on spending as much time as I can here."
"It’s been an excellent experience," he added. "It’s been a change of pace living in downtown Winnipeg from on the farm where I’m used to. You learn new skills and that also ties into being in university, taking courses, learning to manage your own time. You need to actually study in between classes."
Kristjanson joins a solid complement of Manitoba talent, including James Duerksen, Jon Lockie and University of Manitoba Bisons Isaak Fast and Darian Koskie on the U21 team, while Dauphin’s Jeremy Love Jr. is on the U19 squad.
Kristjanson has the size and potential to be great, and it appears as though he has the right stuff between his ears to take him to new heights.
"I plan to take volleyball as far as I can," he said.
"I plan to stay my five years at the University of Winnipeg and after that I have no doubts with the infrastructure we have at the University of Winnipeg and the coaching staff with Larry, the sky’s the limit if I continue to keep my nose to the grindstone, work hard and go to practice and give it everything I’ve got.
"I like to think this acknowledgement on the junior team is a positive step … toward playing on the national team or playing professionally because this is the sport I love and my life’s passion."
» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen
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