In the eyes of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's volleyball program, there is a hope that Sudbury is synonymous with stability.
Former local club player and Lockerby Composite graduate Sean McKay was selected as the ninth head volleyball coach in the history of the school that has four national championship banners displayed in their gymnasium.
The 28 year old, who completed his studies at the Western University a few years back, serving as captain and setter with the Mustangs, has experienced some very interesting stops along the way since leaving northern Ontario, most if not all of which involved volleyball.
Completing his Masters at Western, McKay served as an assistant coach with the Fanshawe Falcons of the OCAA, before moving abroad to both coach (St Vincent and the Grenadines national teams) and play (professionally with Sodertelge Volleyball Club in Sweden).
Making his way back to Canada, McKay secured employment with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Trojans in Calgary, leading his team to an ACAC championship in 2018, and bronze medals one year later.
"I've been fortunate enough to work with athletes from all over the province, and frankly, all over the world when I did that stint in the Carribean," said McKay. "You need to see every interaction with a new athlete as a learning opportunity."
There exists little doubt that McKay's love of academia transfers nicely to the approach that he takes to the court, guiding his teams into action. "With a sport like men's volleyball, it's evolving so quickly, whether it's the speed of the game, a new ball, a new rule change."
"If you're not changing your mindset on the sport and re-evaluating that mindset, you're not going to be improving. You have to be keeping up with international trends to put yourself in a good spot."
"That's what I try and do, as much as I can, is just immerse myself in high level, and quite frankly beginner level volleyball, just to continue learning." The Huskies are coming off a 2018-2019 season which saw the men compile a record of 12-10, sliding in to 5th place in the 12-team loop, beaten in four sets in the opening round of the playoffs by the Mount Royal University Cougars.
"The program has had quite a bit of turnover," noted McKay, the team's third coach in the past two years. "They need some stability, so I need to cater to that. The alumni have seen some turnover, the recruiting has seen some turnover, so any time that occurs, you're going to lose a step or two against the competition, especially in the recruiting game."
Those concerns, however, are offset against a boatload of benefits that would draw the former member of the Club de Volleyball Les Diables in Sudbury to his new post in the prairies. "Saskatchewan is a program with a ton of history," said McKay.
"(Sudbury native) Richard Faucher helped them win one of their national titles. Academically, it's a super institution. It's got just about every program you could imagine, so when it comes to recruiting, your bases are covered."
"Financially, it's very well supported, with a very strong alumni group. And Saskatoon itself is a great city, if you can make it through some cold winters. Not too different from Sudbury, to be honest."
From both sides of this equation, there is hope for a long term marriage. "I'm not a 20 year career coach with a ton of accolades under my belt," said McKay. "So I think they see it as a good investment with a guy that is going to work hard at building a program and perhaps be a lifelong coach there."
"I think there's some appeal to that."
"Everywhere that I go, I try and dip a toe in the volleyball community, try and help improve the program's image," McKay continued. "At the moment, and hopefully for the first few years, I'm hoping to focus just on volleyball."
"As I progress through my career there, I might get more involved in some teaching or just the research side, or, who knows, maybe even pursue a PHD or something to the effect."
Under any circumstance, Sean McKay offers an element of stability, one that suits the University of Saskatchewan quite nicely, thank you very much.