After five years playing Vikings volleyball and three years as the team's assistant coach, Varga is excited to lead Vikings men's volleyball through an unprecedented year.
Devin Varga knew from a young age that he wanted to be a coach. After playing volleyball for five years with the Augustana Vikings and falling in love with the program, he wanted to do anything he could to help the Vikings continue to be successful. So when the team found itself without a head coach at the end of last year, Devin jumped at the chance. Game, set, match.
"I was ecstatic when I found out I was going to have an opportunity to coach the Vikings," Varga said after he was offered the interim head coaching position for the 2020/21 year. "It is literally a dream come true for me."
Although Varga concedes that the year will not be ideal—as the Augustana Vikings season is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic—he is ready for the challenge, and even sees the lack of competition as an opportunity.
"In a normal year, athletes only have about five months to weight train. Now we have a full year, and I'd like to take advantage of that," he explained when asked what the year ahead will look like for him and his team. "Not competing this year might be a blessing in disguise for us. We are a young team so it will allow us to work on perfecting some technical skills, to get used to some new systems and will allow the athletes to get used to my coaching style."
Varga is also more than prepared for the year ahead. He knows the Vikings volleyball team well, having played with them for many years before becoming assistant coach in 2017. He also has experience in head and assistant coaching roles with volleyball clubs here in Camrose and in his hometown of Muenster, Saskatchewan. Plus, many of the players have already worked with Varga and are looking forward to welcoming him back in his new role.
Thomas Zimmerman, team captain and fourth-year Vikings volleyball libero, is one of those players.
"Devin has a lot of knowledge and understanding from a player's perspective which will be helpful for the team," Zimmerman said. "I'm also looking forward to him taking the position as a younger coach and a great athlete—he actually played for the Vikings here when they won provincials in 2015."
Although Zimmerman is excited to work alongside Varga this year, he recognizes the challenges that COVID-19 brings, especially as a senior student in his last year of study.
"Graduating this year is a tough reality that I've had to accept, and there are many others in the same spot as me, I know," he explained, "but I am still excited to watch my fellow teammates grow and prepare for our next season, and I wish them all the best."
Health and wellness a priority
Randal Nickel, executive director of student life at Augustana, is sympathetic to Zimmerman's concern.
"We definitely understand the challenges that the pandemic brings," explains Nickel. "For the student-athlete, it could result in even more loss—the absence of competition can add another layer to the challenges around well-being and we are paying attention to that."
Which is why, says Nickel, it's important for every team to have a coach in place to train, support and look after the physical and mental health of their student-athletes. Right now, every team except for Augustana curling has hired a coach—a position for which Nickel is actively recruiting.
Coaches are already hard at work and have been consulting with the respective University of Alberta North Campus' Bears & Pandas teams on return-to-training programs. Augustana is also working to open up an on-campus fitness centre and have gym space available for the end of the month.
"We would rather open things up slowly and carefully than have opened them up too soon and be scrambling to shut things down," says Nickel. "The heath, wellness and safety of all of our students and staff have been and are the basis for each of these decisions—they are of critical importance."