Fonthill’s Sauli Lianga earns Brock volleyball rookie award

At the conclusion of his Grade 12 year at E. L. Crossley, Sauli Lianga decided to take the leap and train full time for volleyball.

The 20-year-old Fonthill resident was one of the youngest athletes selected to spent seven months with the National Excellence Program in Gatineau, Que., the site where the national A team trains in the summer. The program saw Lianga participate in two three-hour practices a day

“There were obviously ups and downs and my body was one of [the downs],” the 6-foot-4 athlete said. “Training six hours a day for the whole time, there were definitely some practices where I didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to play but it was a job for us. We were getting paid for going there and I didn’t have any excuse to not go.”

At the end of the seven-month program, the participants were given money for their schooling and Lianga emerged from the experience a much better player.

“All around, my game definitely improved but my mental game improved the most,” he said. “That is a key aspect that the high levels are trying to push more than anything else. We have the skill and we can play but it’s what happens when we can’t play. How do we fix that and how do we move on?”

Lianga put his skills on display this past season with the Brock men’s team and he was rewarded at year’s end by being named the squad’s top rookie.

“Sauli had a great first season for the Badger program. He brought back valuable experience from his time with the National Excellence Program and his rookie of the year award is a testament to his growth and development,” Brock head coach Matt Ragogna said. “Taking on a new role on the right side of the court this season, his calm demeanor and joyous self were big factors in the success of the program this season.”

Ragogna was impressed with Lianga’s efforts.

“He put a lot of work into the small technical aspects of his game and got adjusted to the style and tempo of the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) quickly, something that takes others time when entering university,” he said. “He is very deserving of this award and has a bright future ahead of him in a Badger uniform.”

Lianga was pleased with his first season.

“It was a great experience and I definitely learned a lot. It’s different playing in the OUA compared to playing OVA (Ontario Volleyball Association). All the teams have different styles of play.”

Lianga felt that he was able adjust to moving to right side after playing left side his entire career.

“It’s similar but it is very different,” he said. “On the left side, you get to pass but on the right side you don’t. And the other thing is left sides are mostly right-handed so they can see the ball coming and can cut it off with their right hand. On the right side, because I am right handed, the ball has to travel over my body or head and it is harder to read, track and still hit shots.”

He knows what needs to work on to become even better at the OUA level.

“I want to be more versatile on my attacks and try to less readable,” he said. “One thing that I found is that they were able to shut me down because I often made similar shots. Any team that could game-plan okay could shut me down really easily. I want to try and be able to see the block and be able to hit around it and score so it will be harder to game plan for it.”

Brock was an easy choice for Lianga for two reasons.

“I am in physical education, the program is really good and there are only a few schools in Ontario which offer it,”he said.”Brock was one of them, it’s well-known and a lot of people really enjoyed the program.”

Academics was his main reason for choosing Brock, followed closely by the development of the school’s men’s volleyball program since restarting four seasons ago.

“They have just been getting better and better and for me coming to this team, we will continue growing and we have done really well so far.”

This past season, the Badgers made the playoffs for the first time in program history.

Lianga is still trying to keep training despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a weird time that we are in,” he said.

Team members were given a workout from a Brock trainer that Lianga does three times a week and then he does his own version of workouts twice a week.

“I get things around my house to use as weights,” he said. “I will use a shopping bag and I put books in it or stuff like that. I am trying to work my way around it.”

His long-term goals are to play pro and one of his possibilities is to do it in Lithuania. All four of his grandparents were born in Lithuania and he would be able to get his Lithuanian citizenship and play pro volleyball there without being considered an import.

“Another idea is to go play anywhere, Europe or Australia, and after my schooling, maybe do my teacher’s program abroad.”


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