Liam Remple has inhaled the rare air of his sport enough times to have gained a critical appreciation of how sweet the view can be almost 12 feet off the ground.
“It’s pretty crazy up there, I’m not going to lie” laughed Remple, the high-flying 6-foot-7 Vernon Christian volleyball star during a phone interview earlier this week over his lunch break at the Okanagan school.
“The first couple of times you do it, you get a jolt,” continued the 17-year-old senior whose spike touch was measured last month at 11 feet, 7.5 inches. “It’s so fun to get up there and to be able to play with the ball. When it happens, you have that extra second over your opponent. You’re able to think to yourself ‘This is the shot I want to hit’ and then you go and make that shot.”
Finding that so-called sweet spot in time does not come without hours and hours of toil, and for Remple, a bouncy, long-levered skywalker with a penchant to defy gravity, there is no doubting the fact that his work ethic equals his substantive gifts.
And it’s for those reasons that the head coaches of four B.C.-based Canada West men’s volleyball programs made it unanimous, voting Remple the 2020-21 B.C. Boys Grade 12 Volleyball Player of the Year. His selection comes as part of the Varsity Letters Super 15, which despite the pandemic, celebrates its 12th straight year of publication. You can read the entire Super 15 list here.
“When you see a kid with that kind of length have that easy of a spring, then it’s a no-brainer that he can play at a height that very few players can get to,” said Ben Josephson, head coach of Langley’s defending national champion Trinity Western Spartans, the Canadian powerhouse program where Remple has elected to begin his university career next fall.
“He is one of those gifted jumpers with a God-given ability to fly, and then given the length, at 6-foot-7, to support it,” continued Josephson, whose Spartans had won three of the last four U SPORTS national titles before the current 2020-21 season was cancelled nationally by the pandemic. “At that height, with those hops, he was playing in the high-11s (spike touch in the high-11-foot range) when he was in Grade 11, and if you can play in the high-11s you have a chance to be a national team player.”
And Josephson is only willing to speak in those kinds of superlatives because he knows that somewhere in Vernon, Remple is holed up in another training session, holding up his end of the bargain by trying to improve on every part of his game.
“As you get to know him, he starts to talk about wanting to play on the national team, and wanting to win national championships,” begins Josephson. “But I say ‘Tell me more’ because a dream without a plan is just a wish. And as we’ve unpacked these conversations, I can see it. He’ll be working out in a gym by himself, then sending me video to ask me what I think of his arm swing, and all of his mechanics.”
For Remple, the answer to it all may be simple, but it’s also the No. 1 trait in all of the greats: “I just enjoy playing volleyball, so any second I can have playing the game I love is a second well-spent.”
It’s hard to know if there has ever been a deeper, stronger and more talented team playing at the Single-A level in the entire history of all B.C. high school sports, boys and girls, than the Vernon Christian boys volleyball team from 2018-19 through the aborted 2020-21 season.
Organically formed away from the inevitable push-and-pull of the big-city, the Royals have been an odds-defying outlier… a two-time defending provincial champion whose three-peat title seemed a coronation waiting-to-happen before COVID-19 struck.
Consider that last season, a pair of Vernon Christian players made the Super 15 in No. 8 Ben Moltwenik (UBC Okanagan) and No. 9 Devin Hofsink (Trinity Western).
This season, four of their former teammates made the Super 15 in their senior years in No. 1 Remple (TWU), No. 4 Levi VanderDeen (UBC Okanagan), No. 11 Jacob Defeo and No. 15 Joshua Hall (Thompson Rivers).
Ponder that for a moment.
From a pool of 30 players representing the best 15 graduating boys players in B.C. the past two years, six, or fully 20 per cent of that pool, came from a tiny, Single-A Christian school in the Okanagan.
And at the top of that heap is Remple, who this past summer, was the only B.C. player to make the Canadian youth national team.
While it turned out to be a virtual team, the point is clear. It illustrated Remple’s uncanny trend of consistent annual improvement, which which has been as steady and as voluminous as the three-or-so-inches he seemed to annually grow over his formative years in the game.
“Liam has performed and participated with the Team B.C. program year-after-year,” says Volleyball B.C. technical director Jay Tremonti of a player who has consistently played ahead of his age group, including making the provincial Under-16 team while still an Under-14 player. “When you improve like that, on every step of your journey, it makes it so exciting to see what the future can hold for him.”
An immediate part of that future, however, will include preserving the a lot of the childhood environment in which he has felt so comfortable in.
In fact the similarities in going from a small, successful, faith-based high school in Vernon to its carbon-copy at the university level in Langley looks to be a match made in heaven.
“The (Spartans) reminded me of my high school team in the way that they were all so welcoming, and such a tight community, but I guess that’s what you get when you go to a smaller school,” said Remple, who made a visit to the school in January of his Grade 11 year. “It like (at Vernon Christian) everyone knows everyone’s name, and when you walk down the hall you can say ‘Hi’ to anyone.”
Joining Remple next season at Trinity Western will be a pair of local products in Langley Fundamental setter Tayler Roxburgh, the No. 7 prospect, and Tyson Hofer, a setter from Langley Christian who received poll points and finished within the B.C. Top 20.
Remple’s small town roots and love of sports shaped his work ethic early on, yet his most formative lessons didn’t start out on the volleyball court.
Instead, they began on the ice.
“Hard work was bred into me since I was five, on the pond playing hockey,” says Remple, whose Vernon team won a B.C. provincial rep Pee Wee title before he eventually hung up the skates to focus on volleyball, a sport which has deep roots in his family.
“He was a phenomenal hockey player, and he played to right before his WHL draft year,” remembers his father Dwayne Remple. “For a first-year bantam kid to be a 6-foot-4 defenceman…”
Still, Dwayne Remple — through his own past experiences as a collegiate player on the court — could very easily see the emerging volleyball talent in his son.
Originally recruited to play volleyball at Trinity Western in the early 1990s, Dwayne Remple instead settled on Columbia Bible College back in an age when both programs played in the BCCAA (now PacWest). A frequent foe included former TWU men’s national championship coach Ron Pike, then a player with the Spartans.
Now, co-coaching the Vernon Christian team with Chris Bannick, Dwayne Remple saw his son’s verticality continue rise at an astounding rate.
Four weeks ago at a spike touch testing session at Kelowna’s UBC Okanagan, the top couple dozen players in the region were put through their paces.
“They had the apparatus set at 11-feet-6 because not many in B.C. touch over 11 feet,” Dwayne Remple remembers. “But then on his first jump Liam palmed the top of it. He went on to touch 11-7 and-a-half, but I think that first jump was probably closer to 11-feet-10.”
It’s a gift, but it’s also one that served its intended purpose because its owner has never taken anything about the journey for granted.
Liam Remple has not measured the exact amount of sweat he’s expended, or logged the precise number of hours he’s invested on the volleyball court.
All he knows is that when you chase a passion with everything you have to give it, you get a chance to inhale your sport’s rarest air… you get a chance to rise above the pack… and you get the gift of one extra second to do with what you please.
It’s the place where time can stand still.
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