In five seasons as a member of the Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball squad, Joel Makara never had the opportunity to play for a Canada West or USports championship, let alone the chance to be a regular contributor.
His most productive season was his last with the Canada West school, which saw the six-foot-two St. Andrews product record just 21 assists and 51 digs during 53 sets of action in 2017-18 — coming off redshirting in 2016-17.
“You play many years and obviously Brandon was very strong for the majority of the years I was there,” Makara told The Selkirk Journal. “It’s just kind of the way it goes at that level. Sometimes you get your opportunity and if you don’t seize it, you don’t get to play a much as you’d hoped and you lose a lot of confidence.”
During the 2018-19 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference campaign, however, Makara was not only part of the Keyano College Huskies men’s volleyball team that captured the first conference title in program history, but the fifth-year senior played an integral role for the Fort McMurray, Alta., squad at his familiar libero position.
Keyano, which lost the ACAC final in 2018, as well as in 2016, dominated the North Division with a 22-2 regular-season record. The Huskies, led offensively by outside hitters Justin Delorme and Liam Matheson, who was teammates with Makara at BU, then cruised through the provincial tournament. They didn’t drop a set, capping ACAC play with a 3-0 (25-23, 26-24, 25-18) triumph over the Lethbridge College Kodiaks in the conference final in Edmonton on Feb. 23.
Makara played in each of Keyano’s regular- and post-season matches, finishing his last year of post-secondary volleyball with 225 digs — fifth in the 14-team conference — and 36 assists as the Huskies’ defensive specialist.
“You wonder how well you can play in games and this year has definitely taught me that I am good enough,” the 23-year-old said. “It’s been really good for my self-esteem and my confidence in volleyball, brought back a lot of passion and a lot of love for the game I’m pretty happy about that.
“Obviously, I’ll always remember my time in Brandon, I loved it there. I loved all the guys and (head coach) Grant (Wilson) was great and the school was awesome, but just the opportunity to play as much as I have this year is a great feeling.”
But the path from BU to northern Alberta wasn’t one Makara expected to take.
Matheson, the ACAC tournament MVP, had already committed to the Huskies and another of Makara’s former Bobcat teammates, outside hitter Matt Powell, attended Keyano before transferring to BU.
“Powell obviously talked good about it, but I didn’t decide until late July, early August,” Makara admitted. “I was enjoying my summer, working, golfing and then Liam committed and that was one of the biggest reasons (for me to go) was not only the fact I had another year to play, but to do it with one of my best friends. That was something I didn’t really want to pass up.
“I was thinking volleyball was done for me when I finished at BU, but I thought, ‘What’s one more kick at the can to prove that I can still play,’ and obviously things have worked out well … Definitely Liam deciding to come out here was probably my biggest influence to join him.”
With Makara and Matheson in the fold, the Huskies are only three matches away from making more history. By winning the ACAC banner, Keyano earned a spot in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association men’s volleyball championship tournament, which runs from March 7 to 10 in Red Deer, Alta. The Huskies will face the Quebec conference silver medalist Griffons de l’Outaouais in quarter-final action on March 7.
The opportunity to play for a national volleyball title is something Makara has wanted since he committed to BU from his time in high school with the Lord Selkirk Royals.
“Liam and I have done a lot of talking. We’ve been looking forward to this all year and we’ve had our minds on the prize with the end goal, but I think it goes even farther back than that,” Makara said. “It goes back to our time that started at Brandon. This is always something that we’ve wanted to do coming in as competitors … by wining provincials we gave ourself that opportunity.
“All our guys are very focused on the bigger picture. Our end goal has always been to go into nationals, compete and hopefully bring home something. We’re working really hard, doing a lot of video, doing a lot of weight training, mental training … I think we have a really good opportunity and the guys have the right mindset to do it this year.”