Staying close to home to play college volleyball had its appeal for Danny Aspenlieder.
But so did moving away.
After being courted by Kelowna’s UBC Okanagan Heat and Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound outside hitter for the Fulton Maroons decided Vancouver was the place to be, and signed to play his college ball with the UBC Thunderbirds.
“UBC has a really great team culture and it’s such a good school,” said Aspenlieder, 17, who helped the Maroons finish fourth at the B.C. AAA High School Boys volleyball championships in Langley.
“It was hard not to say yes to a place like UBC. It’s such a beautiful school and the team is very good as well.”
UBC is currently 8-4 in the CIS Canada West conference, tied for fourth place.
Aspenlieder, who played his final year of high school at outside hitter after making a move from middle blocker, believes he’ll fit in well for UBC, a team looking to get bigger on the outside.
“Danny’s size is his No. 1 attribute and then with him making that transition to the outside is a huge plus for us as there aren’t many 6-6/6-7 outside hitters that have the potential that Danny has,” said UBC head coach Richard Schick.
“But not only his physical size but his demeanour on the court along with this passion for the game are big pluses.”
Schick believes Aspenlieder, who is leaning towards studying forestry, won’t have problems adapting to university play.
“He’s big, he hits high, and he hits hard. He’s got all of that going for him,” said Schick. “We’re going to focus on getting Danny stronger as well as tune up some technical aspects of the game which he has to improve on.
“For any player coming in to the CIS in their first year, there’s a lot to learn. The players that they’ll be training with are all ex-provincial all stars and the ‘best players on their team.’ I can only see Danny improving in our training and competition atmosphere where he will be playing with players that are older, stronger and have more experience than him.
“He’ll definitely get the opportunity and we can’t wait to see how he responds.”
Aspenlieder credits his head coach of the last five years, Richard Bedard, with making the transition from the middle to the outside.
“He’s been great at turning me into the volleyball player I am,” said Aspenlieder, a two-time provincial age group team player. “I was lucky to have a real good coach for five years.”
Bedard says Aspenlieder’s big heart and perma-grin made him a joy to coach.
“His love and compete for the game are second to none,” said Bedard.
“People have a lot of respect for him. He’s always smiling, and he’s going to continue to improve as a player because he has the will and his heart is so big.”
Aspenlieder will play his final season of club ball with the Vernon Sky until May to prepare for UBC, hoping to finish his club career with a trip to the national finals in Saskatoon.
Before he heads to university, Aspenlieder can reflect on a high school career that saw him lead his team to a provincial final in 2014 and the final four in 2015.
“Considering the team we went in with, we did really well,” said Aspenlieder of the 2015 Maroons. “We started with three other players, but two of them moved and one injured his knee. Considering all that, and the fact we only had nine players, we did well.”
UBC has six players who played for the Canadian Junior national team last year. They have nine B.C. products and one European – freshman Henrik Hole of Norway. The Thunderbirds open a three-game series Sunday in California against the UCLA Bruins. UBC meets Pepperdine Wednesday and Friday in Malibu.