In many ways, Brad Kufske’s presence on the Canadian junior national men’s volleyball team should come as no surprise.
The high flyer from Abbotsford was, after all, considered the top high school volleyball prospect in B.C. – and one of the finest in Canada – when he graduated from Yale Secondary in 2009.
But after sitting out an entire year with a nagging ankle injury, cracking the under-20 team’s roster last week represented a major triumph for Kufske.
The accomplishment is all the more remarkable considering that Kufske returned to full training just one week before the junior national tryout opened in Gatineau, Que.
“I was kind of nervous going in,” he admitted. “A week before tryouts, my ankle was still bothering me quite a bit. It’s kind of a miracle that it was able to heal up in just one week, and it was completely fine. It’s pretty cool.”
It was one year ago, at the 2010 junior national tryout, that Kufske suffered the initial setback. After going up for a block, his right foot came down on the shoe of another player.
Originally diagnosed as a fairly standard inversion ankle sprain, it was later discovered that Kufske had torn cartilage. That damage necessitated surgery in mid-November.
Kufske was subsequently sidelined for what would have been his sophomore season at Trinity Western University. The Spartans won the CIS national championship, but the hard-hitting left side was unable to play an active role.
It was a frustrating turn of events, but Kufske, a devout Christian, said the adversity served to deepen his faith.
“It was a different experience, having to sit on the bench and watch every game,” he said. “But I think it allowed me to grow in other ways. When I was playing volleyball, I was relying on that to satisfy me. But when I couldn’t rely on that, it forced me to find other things, which I’m glad for. It was about developing relationships with guys on the team and working through Bible studies that made me grow as a person.”
Kufske could hardly find himself in a better situation with the junior national squad, in terms of getting his body and game back to peak efficiency under the watchful eye of a top-notch coaching staff. He’s currently training with the team in Gatineau, in preparation for the World Junior Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (July 31-Aug. 10).
The Canadian squad will also make trips to Panama and Argentina for tune-up matches prior to the World Juniors.
“We’re trying to aim for a top-eight finish,” Kufske said, noting that Canada’s best finish in the junior men’s age group was fifth in 1999. “There’s a lot of good players in other countries who already play pro at this age, and it’ll be nice to see where we’re at compared to the rest of the world.”
Kufske’s comfort level with the national program should be high, as three of his TWU teammates – Lucas Van Berkel, Derek Thiessen and Branden Schmidt – cracked the roster.
The only bit of bad news was that Ian Perry, Kufske’s former Yale Secondary teammate, didn’t make the cut. Perry was a libero on last year’s Canadian junior squad, which won silver at the NORCECA Championships to qualify for the World Juniors.
“I was kind of wishing he’d make it again, and I thought he would,” Kufske said of Perry, who plays his university volleyball for the UBC Thunderbirds.