In their blood

In their blood

Geordie Carragher
Olds College Sports Information
December 10, 2018

The Olds College Broncos men's volleyball team has made a pair of key additions with an eye toward the future.

Ryzen and Askiy Walkingbear, from Thunderchild, Sask., have both committed to the Olds College men's volleyball program, joining their older brother, Thundersky, a first-year outside hitter for the Broncos. Ryzen will join the Broncos for the 2019-20 season, while Askiy is the program's first 2020-21 commit.

Broncos head coach Ryan Marsden is thrilled to secure the brothers as the program continues to take significant steps in its growth.

"We could not be more excited as a program to know that the direction we are going in is one that others will respect," he said. "These two recruits are massive for us, and we are excited to see the continued development of both of them.

"Both brothers are very intelligent on the court, and they demand respect through their play."

The brothers play for the Piyseiw Awasis Thunder on Thunderchild First Nation, who recently captured the 1A boys provincial high school championship in Saskatchewan.

The team, coached by their father, Winston, and sister, Skylar, is currently on a 53-game winning streak.

Ryzen Walkingbear, a six-foot-one outside hitter, is excited about making the jump to the college game next season.

"I'm looking forward to the competition and all the hard work that is going to have to be put in, and being able to meet some of the players I've watched," he said.

Marsden describes Ryzen, who was recently named Saskatchewan's 17U Male Player of the Year, as a smooth player with game-changing ability on the court.

"It looks so natural to him," Marsden said. "He can pass really well, and he has a massive vertical. He can take over a match single-handedly."

Askiy fits in a similar mold to Ryzen in terms of measurables and position, complementing his game with strong defensive ability.

"His vertical is insane as well, and he loves to end a rally," Marsden said of Askiy, who was recently identified for tryouts for the 16U national team.

Ryzen and Askiy are the latest products of the Walkingbear bloodline, known for its prowess in Canadian university and collegiate volleyball.

In addition to Thundersky Walkingbear being a current Bronco, the oldest brother, Desai, played for the Brandon University Bobcats in the mid-2000s before transferring to the Lakeland College Rustlers.

The next brother, Savana, followed Desai to the Rustlers, where he was named a CCAA All-Canadian for the 2014-15 season before transferring to Camosun College.

He played a starring role in leading the Chargers to consecutive PACWEST gold medals in 2015-16 and 2016-17, making conference all-star teams (Second Team in 2015-16, First Team in 2016-17) and All-Tournament teams in both seasons, also picking up CCAA All-Tournament Second Team award in 2016.

Marsden made the trip to Thunderchild First Nation to officially sign the brothers in person, a trip over a year in the making.

He first connected with the Walkingbear family last year, when they participated at a club volleyball tournament hosted at the Ralph Klein Centre. Thundersky was coaching the team, while Ryzen and Askiy both played, with Winston also in attendance.

From there, a relationship between Marsden and the Walkingbear family formed, with Marsden eventually meeting the matriarch, Bernadine, and sister, Angel, at the Saskatchewan club provincial championships.

Thundersky officially committed to the Broncos at the Volleyball Canada Nationals in Edmonton in May, opening the door for his younger brothers to follow suit.

Marsden's visit coincided with the Thunder's zone championship victory the previous weekend. As a result, a large pep rally was held to celebrate both occasions.

Traditional gifts were exchanged on both sides, with Marsden presenting Winston with tobacco grown on Olds College land as part of the invitation for the brothers to join the Broncos.

The tobacco was produced from seed gifted to Olds College and blessed by elders, planted after a Pipe Ceremony, and harvested in September. The tobacco growth, along with growing other sacred medicines like sage and sweetgrass, is part of Olds College's commitment to demonstrating respect for First Nations people, culture, and traditions.

As a guest of the Thunderchild First Nation, Marsden received a blanket and tobacco from Winston.

The Broncos volleyball program has strong Indigenous ties on both the men's and women's teams. In addition to Thundersky Walkingbear, River Thomas and Tyler Donnally also play key roles for the men's team, while Samantha Laboucan and Delaney Pysar feature on the women's team.

"We have worked closely with the Indigenous communities on both the men's and women's teams," Marsden said. "We believe everyone is equal, and finding these student-athletes has been really helpful for us."

Brent Collins, Indigenous Services Coordinator at Olds College, believes the signings help reaffirm Olds College's commitment to establishing strong relationships with Indigenous communities.

"We recognize the significance of the trust that Thunderchild First Nation has placed in us, as demonstrated by entrusting us with the education of their youth," he said. "It's a responsibility that we at Olds College take very seriously."

Ryzen Walkingbear is eager to play with his brothers going forward.

"I can't wait to be on the court with Thundersky again, but this time at a collegiate level," he said. "If we're all able to play together in 2020, it would be the best feeling ever.

"Three Walkingbears on the court, man oh man, that will be such an experience."