by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
Austin Dyer has a large family.
Up to 18 daughters.
Yet his wife Amber wants more.
"To a certain degree, my wife is ready for us to have our own kids," quipped Dyer, head coach of the Lakeland College Rustlers women's volleyball team. "She wants our own kids, so I can stop acting as a surrogate father to 13-to-14 young women every year."
It is that time-and-dedication, to improve each-and-every Rustlers skill level, which led the Lloydminster-based school to a 2017 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women's Volleyball National Championship gold medal last year when they defeated the host team Camosun College Chargers in Victoria, British Columbia.
Now at the Christmas break, the Rustlers hold a No. 1 CCAA ranking, behind a 12 matches won, 36 sets won and 6 sets lost record in 2017-2018 Alberta Colleges Athletic Association (ACAC) regular season play.
"It hasn't really been that hard to keep competitive, considering how our season went last year and that we have the whole team back minus the one fifth-year (libero Laura Popplestone, who had appeared in nine matches)," said Dyer, 35.
"Plus we added six more players for an 18-player roster, of which four girls of that are red shirting, so they will not lose eligibility."
So how does Dyer keep student/athletes Jensen Chorney, Kaylie Lueck, Hannah Pek and Nicole Sharpe, all with impressive volleyball resumes; focused, knowing that they will see no ACAC court time this season?
"I think redshirting a player can be whatever the program or coach decides," said Dyer, who started his post-secondary coaching career while a student at the University of Saskatchewan, assisting with the Huskies' women's volleyball program. "For some institutions it means that they do not travel or get into drills or practices.
"That is not the way we look at it for those four players. They do everything we do. They travel with us, take team practice with us. They have a year to focus on getting better and stronger. It shifts their focus to take over when the older girls move on.
"The culture we build here, is to establish a family-orientated atmosphere. Whether you are a starter, a role player, redshirted...everybody serves a purpose. Everybody has impact on whether we win or lose."
Family-orientated and volleyball, is part of Dyer's own upbringing.
His older brother Taylor and younger sister Brin all played high school and club volleyball in Saskatchewan.
All have association with Lakeland College.
Taylor enters year No. 7 as head coach of the Rustlers men's volleyball program while Brin played for the Rustlers (2008-2011).
A full-time physical education instructor at E. S. Laird Middle School, where he coaches badminton and assists with golf and track and field, Austin is now in his 10th year at the Rustlers helm.
Coached by their father Brian at Viscount Central School, Austin is passionate about volleyball.
"I am very passionate about the game and the growth of the game," said Dyer. "It has given me a lot in a lifetime. Opportunities to travel around the world (Rustlers are off to San Diego, California for a exhibition games during the break) and interact with people . It has given me the day-to-day life skills I have and the opportunity to pass that on to my athletes."
According to the Rustlers website: "Leading the Rustlers on offense is fourth year outside hitter Ahnika Kuse, who averages 3.28 kills per set, with 4th-year outside hitter Shelby Becker adding 2.56 kills per set. The Rustlers have a solid setter in fourth year Rae Sigurdson, who has over 400 assists and averages 10.2 per set. Defensively, second year libero Olivia Thomson leads the Rustlers with 3.5 digs per set while Becker adds 2.56 and Kuse adds 2.31 digs per set."