By Zachary Flynn
NOTE: These interviews were conducted prior to provincial COVID-19 restrictions when in-person sporting activities were permitted.
The 2018-19 ACAC men’s volleyball rookie of the year was set to play his final games in an Ooks jersey winter year before the season was abruptly cancelled in November.
Jonathan Shapka is currently on his practicum for the denturist program at NAIT and was hoping to lead the ooks on his third provincial championship run in his three years playing in the NAIT Gymnasium.
In October, the ACAC announced plans to put together a 2021 season schedule which would be voted on and announced in December. Less than 3 weeks later and all hope for Shapka’s final season was lost. Nevertheless, he’s still trying to make the most of the year.
“At the end of the day, it’s my last kick at the can and I’m still trying to leave as much of an impression as I can with the team,” said Shapka.
“I went from a 23-year-old rookie to captaining the team over the last few seasons so I felt that there was still a need for some older mature guys to be there.”
To ensure that mark is left, Shapka is determined to see out the rest of the year with a group that he sees as family.
“I’ve been very fortunate to build a lot of great relationships with my teammates and these are guys who when I graduate, I’m going to continue to see them on the regular,” said Shapka.
“Simon Coat was one [of those guys] who I spent a lot of quality time with off the court. He’s moved back to Australia since then but he’s still one of my closest friends. And Devon Klein and I have been playing together for the last three years and it’s a relationship that’s grown a lot this year and taken him to be one of my best friends right now. The list is endless.”
As for head coach, Doug Anton, Shapka’s departure leaves a void to fill.
“I would probably phrase him as our emotional center, especially on the floor and in competition. He’s really vital and we don’t really have anybody else in our program right now who brings the skillset he does but also has that piece,” said Anton.
With a roster showcasing a sizable number of first-year athletes, Shapka is able to take his leadership skills and experience and transfer that to these younger athletes who now have a full year to prepare for their first ACAC season.
“A lot of it is just being patient with them and trying to explain things to them. And he’s a pretty good motivator so we’re hoping he’s able to continue to motivate the rest of the players and keep them excited about coming to training,” said Anton.
“One of the most remarkable things about him is that he’s in his mid twenties but he does a really good job of including the younger guys in the things he’s doing. He relates with these guys and interacts with them. He’s just a really classy guy with a lot of character.”
Unfortunately, when the 2021-22 season begins, Shapka won’t be on the court rallying his team after a massive kill.
“There’s an inevitability that he’ll end up in the stands and it will be great to see him continuing to support the program but I think it’s also a sad day because where he’s really at home is in an ooks uniform fighting for NAIT,” said Anton.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a way to get him on the coaching staff or something.”
Anton is not the only one who carries those sentiments. Volleyball is far from being in Shapka’s past.
“There are already talks of me coming out and still hitting some balls with these guys next season. I won’t be in a uniform but I’ll be proud to rep the Ooks when I come out,” said Shapka.
“I’ll definitely be on a hardwood court somewhere. It might take a little bit of time to rest the old knees but I’ll be back playing volleyball for sure.”
But one thing’s for sure, Shapka is determined to leave his mark in the men’s volleyball program.
“If I can be remembered from a leadership standpoint, I’d value that a lot.”