Jeff Walton: Getting up to speed in a hurry
by Randy Pascal
Many are the ultra-talented local high school sports prodigies who have moved on to the post-secondary ranks, only to quickly learn the value of
patience. Long-time elite players within their local peer group suddenly find themselves as spare parts on a team that brings together all-star talent from
countless other parts of the country.
In that sense, the U Sport voyage of Lasalle Secondary graduate Jeff Walton, now in his third year as a member of the Dalhousie Tigers
men’s volleyball team in Halifax (Nova Scotia), is something of an exception to the norm.
“It was kind of halfway through my first year that I shifted from being a relief guy, someone who would come in for guys that were struggling,” recalled
Walton of his move to the starting rotation. “My second year (2017-2018), I pretty much started the whole year. This year, it’s been full-time over there
too, which has been super nice.”
A very naturally gifted multi-sport athlete, Walton would embrace the changes that needed to be made as he tackled the challenge that was the jump to
the university ranks. “Coming into university, the speed of the game is completely different than what you’re used to in high school, of course,” noted the
twenty year old third year major in Mechanical Engineering.
“You’re playing with grown men. The speed of the setting and just how hard guys hit the ball, that all needs to come. For me, I was a little step behind
that. Halfway through that year, things just kind of turned around for me and I started getting the hang of the speed, and I was able to keep up with the
way our coach wanted to run our offense.”
“Being an outside passer and attacker, serve receive is also a huge part of the game,” Walton continued. “I was learning to handle those spin serves
coming at me at over 100 km/hour, and stuff like that, much better than I was when I first started.”
Beyond the physical, there was also the strategic advancements that needed to be absorbed, re-programming the whole manner in which he viewed the chess
match on the court. “In high school, if you have one really good player, you can pretty much set him every time and it works,” stated Walton.
“At this level, if you have one guy that you are setting a lot, you have teams of blockers that are good enough that they can shut pretty much anybody
down, if you’re being a predictable team.” The key, it would seem, is to ensure unpredictability.
“Spreading out the offense is really important, so running two hitters at one blocker, so that he has to make a decision about who he goes with, that’s
a big part of it,” noted Walton. “Also, just being smart about who you are attacking the ball at. You want to keep the ball away from the libero (defensive
On a local level, during his time with the Lancers, Walton could pretty much score at will. Hitting over, around and through the average SDSSAA block
was well within his wheel-house. This, however, is simply is not going to happen at the Canadian university ranks.
“One of the biggest things is learning how to attack those blockers who are really big,” he explained. “In high school, your shot could go right from
you to the floor. That rarely, rarely happens at this level. You are looking, far more, for how you can score off the block. You want to hit the ball not
right into the hands, but to the weaker points of the block – that’s where you are going to score most of your points.”
There is nary an area of his volleyball world where Walton has not dealt with change in recent years. Even in league scheduling, there were adjustments
to be made. With Memorial University dropping out of the AUS men's volleyball loop, the two remaining teams (Dalhousie Tigers and New Brunswick
Reds) have joined forces with the RSCQ troika of Laval, Montreal and Sherbrooke, a move that could really benefit Walton and the Tigers this year.
“Right now, we're sitting in third, right in the middle of the pack,” he said. “The way things are looking, we're likely going to play Montreal (2nd
place) in our semi-final match. We went five (sets) with them early in the year. But Laval is hosting nationals, so if we win over semi-final and they
(Laval) win theirs, we go to nationals.”
Between now and the time post season play begins in the last two weeks of February, the local product, who sits third on the team in kills, with 73 (in
eight matches), will focus on refining his game to do all he can as a key contributor with the Dalhousie men.
“Number one for me is my attacking, trying to become more efficient,” said Walton. “As an outside hitter, you want your efficiency numbers to be at a
certain level. At the beginning of the year, I was kind of dropping below those numbers, but since then, I've been trending in the right direction.”
“It really comes down to making less errors on the attack and scoring more points,” he continued. “You have to be smart in those situations where you
don't have a great opportunity to score, making sure you focus on putting the other team in trouble, rather than just blasting the ball into the block and
hoping that something good happens – which it almost never does.”
Not when you have made the jump to this level. And certainly not when you are thrust into a U-Sport starting position in your first year or two of