1995 PA Optimist Toppers to be inducted into PA Sports Hall of Fame

The 1995 Prince Albert Optimist Toppers Volleyball Team will be inducted into the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame on April 27. -- Submitted photo.

Although they never took home the gold medal at nationals in 1995, the Prince Albert Optimist Toppers certainly turned some heads on the national stage.

Rene Quintal is the current head coach of the St. Mary Marauders boys volleyball team, but suited up for the Toppers as an opposite attacker in 1995.

Quintal led the Marauders to a provincial title in 2023, but credits his time with the Toppers in teaching him what it means to be successful on the court.

“For myself all the lessons learned as a player—and reflecting on those lessons as a player even now as a coach almost 30 years later—I learned so much from my teammates and from the two coaches and our staff allowed me to be a successful coach now.“

The Toppers featured players from Prince Albert, Kinistino, Tisdale, Melfort, Birch Hills and MacDowell. They earned their ticket to nationals in Prince Edward Island thanks to a provincial win.

Derek Smith played left side for the Toppers that year and earned recognition as an all-star at nationals. He currently resides in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where he owns a restaurant and bar.

Looking back on the team, Smith says it was already impressive for the Toppers to win the provincial title, let alone what they accomplished in the national tournament.

“We were a bunch of rural Saskatchewan kids that played high school volleyball against each other. We knew each other over the two to three years of high school competition. We all came together and made our team in Prince Albert. Just winning the province was a little bit of a feat in itself. But then being able to attend nationals in PEI, almost like a bunch of rural Saskatchewan small guys in a big, advanced tournament.”

Prince Albert would make a run to the final in PEI, which included an impressive semi-final win over a big, physical Ontario team in the semi-final. They would finish with a silver medal after losing to Alberta in the final.

Quintal says that team possessed an ability to play strong defence, which frustrated a lot of their opponents.

“It (was) a traditional Prince Albert volleyball team. Our coaches stressed small ball defence, even back then before the advent of the libero, we did a really good job defending. I think our two best defenders were Scott Graham, the setter and Derek Smith, the outside hitter. We were able to really extend rallies and make it tough for them to score against us.”

After earning their spot in nationals, there was still a lot of work to be done by the Toppers to earn their tickets to Prince Edward Island. The team had to raise more then $20,000 in a stretch of three weeks in order to pay for the expenses of attending the tournament. Adjusted for inflation, that is approximately $36,000 in 2024.

Quintal recalls days that included many long hours in advance of the tournament.

“It would be some long days where we’d be working, let’s say a penny carnival at the Gateway Mall, we’d be done, we’d have practice and then we’d head out to the bingo hall and work a shift at the bingo hall that night. We were definitely stretching ourselves both physically and mentally, just trying to keep up with everything.”

The effort was well worth it, regardless of the results on the court. Smith says he still holds the memories of his first trip to Atlantic Canada close because of the fact he experienced it with his team.

“That was my first trip out to the East Coast and being able to see how small Prince Edward Island really is, compared to our big Saskatchewan. When you look at the potato fields, there was a different color of soil out in the Eastern part of Canada versus the darker soil that we see in Saskatchewan. Being able to see the ocean and experience all that with my teammates and our great coaches, it made the trip memorable as well as being able to win a medal at the Canadian Nationals.”

Full Roster

Mike Davis, Jesse Ens, Scott Graham, Christian Hudon, Jeff Hunt, Brad Hvidston, Tyler Kabatoff, Dan Lloyd, Rene Quintal, Derek Smith, Joey Stabner, Kent Vermett. Coaches: Griff Pete and Dale Regel

The 2024 Prince Albert Hall of Fame induction banquet is on Saturday, April 27 at the Ches Leach Lounge, the event begins at 6 p.m.