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The gym at the Langley Events Centre slowly starts to clear out. With the events of the day, fans and family alike are predictably loitering a little longer than usual. The buzz has turned to a quiet hum. It’s 10:29 p.m. on a Saturday night and the Spartans have just booked their ticket to the conference final for the ninth year in a row and secured a spot in the national championship tournament for the 11th straight season. Following a four-set win in a do-or-die Game 3 against Brandon in what could be considered something of a defacto national final (in 12 days, COVID-19 will force the cancellation of the championship tournament), the Spartans and their faithful fans are in a celebratory mood. As good as the Spartans men’s volleyball program has been in recent years, including a 2012 team that featured three would-be Olympians, the 2019-20 side might have gone down as the best ever. With fourth-year Eric Loeppky, who will go on to be named the 2020 U SPORTS Player of the Year, leading a group of already internationally recognized stars – at various levels, nine players on the roster have already donned the Maple Leaf – the Spartans will cap the year having been ranked No. 1 in the country from start to finish. The Saturday-night victory also puts TWU one step closer to defending their national title, as the Spartans target a fourth U SPORTS championship in five years.
Just fifteen minutes removed from guiding TWU to its biggest win of the season, Loeppky, 21, squats down to have a chat with Zeke, 7, and Cooper, 9 – TWU coach Ben Josephson‘s sons. Amidst the bustle of that winning feeling, the star of the show with the rocket arm, the deft touch, the TSN fame and the upper-crust contract offers is taking a quiet moment to have a chat with two of the three youngest people left in the gym (Josephson’s youngest, Gracie, 4, is enjoying running in circles under the net). Loeppky’s interest in the conversation is genuine. He’s in no rush.
In that moment, he’s just Eric. And that’s the Loeppky everyone else knows too.
“He’s almost too nice,” says Team Canada teammate Blair Bann, who roomed with Loeppky last summer during his national team stint. “Not in a bad way, but he’s just so humble.”
He’s just Eric.
Except he’s not. Not at all.
A week after beating that win over Brandon and the little chat with Cooper and Zeke, Loeppky said one final goodbye to the Spartans home court at the LEC – doing so in fitting fashion by beating rival Alberta in three sets to capture the Spartans third Canada West title in four years. He didn’t know it at the time, but the victory in front of a raucous home crowd of 1,500 fans would be prove to also be his final go-round in a Spartans uniform.
On that night, he put together yet another stellar show – earning eight kills with a .438 hitting percentage, four aces, three blocks and four digs.
The team celebrated while soaking in a boisterous volleyball atmosphere that, within Canada, is almost entirely unique to TWU. However, the celebration the national championship, which was scheduled to start in six days, remained the ultimate prize.
Five days later, with the team preparing for the national tournament in Winnipeg, which is less than an hour’s drive northwest of Loeppky’s hometown of Steinbach, Man., TWU’s coaches walked into a hotel meeting room to deliver the news that, due to the ramifications of COVID-19, the tournament had officially been cancelled.
The tears didn’t hit Loeppky until he hugged Adam Schriemer.
Two years earlier, the fellow Manitobans had an on-court embrace following TWU’s loss to UBC in the 2018 national championship final. Loeppky was then in his second year with the Spartans and a fifth-year Schriemer had just played his final university game. That day also ended with a tear-filled hug.
Schriemer had long been Loeppky’s volleyball hero.
As a Grade 9 student, an impressionable Loeppky had sat on the stairs of the bleachers in awe as Schriemer led his MBCI (Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute) team to the AAAA provincial title in 2012.
“Adam was my idol,” says Loeppky, recalling his teenaged years. “I was mini-Adam. I had long hair and I was setting.”
Schriemer was a bit of local legend in volleyball circles, leading the WinMan Volleyball Club to three national titles and, with Loeppky enjoying a volleyball-centric upbringing, it only made sense he would be a fan.
As they embraced for lone last time as Spartans, the memories of Loeppky’s volleyball journey came flooding to the forefront.
Loeppky’s dad, Greg, was a volleyball guy through and through. He represented Canada at the World Masters Games in Edmonton in 2005 and was a prominent beach player in the Winnipeg region.
Every Saturday, at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg, Eric was his dad’s biggest cheerleader.
“Ever since I was a baby, I was at the beach,” Loeppky says.
He was Winnipeg’s sand version of Cooper, Zeke and Gracie.
With Greg coaching the Under-15 Steinbach Junior Sabres club team, Eric would go to practices when he was still only eight years old and get into drills. When he was 10 years old, he got a chance to actually get on the court. He could serve and pass, but considering he could also still walk under the net, spiking remained a work in progress.
“I just loved it.”
His passion for volleyball was exponentially fostered on local beaches and backyards.
“Every Sunday, after church, we’d go to the Dirks’ place and they have a beach court and we’d just go play.”
Games at the Dirks’ house included Stefan Dirks, who went on to play for the University of Winnipeg College Wesmen, and Erik Wiebe, who would go on to play for Providence University College. Before Schriemer arrived on the scene, Dirks and Wiebe were his heroes.
“Those were the first guys that I was like ‘Oh man I want to be like those guys,'” Loeppky says.
Without a doubt, he was hooked. By the time he was in high school, rumblings of Eric Loeppky’s prominence began to germinate.
Emerging as a star, a Grade 11 Loeppky led Steinbach Regional Secondary School to the school’s first-ever AAAA provincial volleyball championship in the fall of 2014. From there, his university options were limitless.
Josephson got the text in the summer of 2015.
He looked at his phone, got up off the coach and performed a most-appropriate double fist pump.
On the other end of the texting conversation was Loeppky, who was, in that moment, working as a counsellor at Red Rock Bible Camp.
Earlier that year, Loeppky had visited TWU as part of his recruitment process. He had heard about fellow Manitoban Devyn Plett going to TWU, and, of course, he knew about Schriemer going to Langley and he also knew about Carter Bergen, who had similarly taken the talent-rich pipeline from Manitoba to TWU.
Loeppky’s visit to TWU all but secured his decision. A late night chat with Bergen, who Loeppky roomed with on his visit, cemented his choice.
“We had a big heart-to-heart and that was so cool to me. It was pretty special for me to experience that.”
A few months later, he texted Ben, confirming his decision to become a Spartan.
“There are certain players that you sign and you know you’re locked for the next cycle,” says Josephson, who has a vivid recollection of the moment and the fist-pump. “There are certain players that transcend the game. You could see it when he was young that he was going to be an absolute freak show.”
When Loeppky walked off the court in Laval in the spring of 2019, he didn’t know exactly what had just happened. He embraced the moment, but the volleyball world was buzzing about a statistical line he himself wasn’t even quite aware of. Playing in front of more than 2,000 fans – most of which were extremely vocal supporters of the Rouge et Or – Loeppky led the Spartans to a five-set comeback win in the national semifinal against the hometown team. And here’s his stat line.
Twenty-two kills and ZERO attacking errors for a .611 hitting percentage in one of the most monumental contests in Spartans history. He also tacked on six aces.
“When the stakes get higher, his game doesn’t change,” Josephson says. “He has an amazing ability to have a quiet mind and stay in the moment and an amazing ability to match his work rate with his physical tools.”
That night, it all came together.
Loeppky recalls it as only Loeppky can.
“Watching it back, the zero errors is a bit overrated. I got blocked a couple times but Carter had some sweet covers and those could have been errors. It was a good game, but it was a team effort. Derek (Epp) played awesome and guys were covering me.”
That’s the Eric we know. He’s the person who is studying to be a teacher when his volleyball career is over. He’s the person who just completed his four-year career TWU, is on the verge of signing a professional contract in Europe, has represented Canada on the biggest of stages in Brazil, is one of the best players to ever compete in U SPORTS and – here’s the point – some of his TWU classmates didn’t even know he played volleyball.
He’s the Eric who won the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year and then went on to become a three-time First Team All-Canadian. He’s the Eric who helped TWU capture three conference championships and two national titles. He’s also the Eric who embraced being a TWU student and being a Spartan.
“Out here (at TWU), you become a man and you become yourself,” Loeppky says.
“The way that the culture helps shape you is a huge. I think the success and the culture reflect on each other. One doesn’t make the other. We’re successful because of the culture and the culture is why we succeed and why we bond. They work together in a really cool way.”
In his four years at TWU, he became the Canada West all-time leader in career aces, with 153, garnering his “King of Aces” nickname, and his 4.57 points per set over his career has him sixth all-time in conference history.
It was a four-year career that has never before been witnessed in TWU history.
“Everybody you talk to roots for him because he goes about it the right way,” Josephson says. “He plays an incredible game and he has incredible humility. He’s an incredible teammate. That’s a really rare blend to have someone as talented and as special as Eric is, who is also an absolute bro with his teammates and his opponents. He carries himself with such humility and grace that you can’t do anything but root for him.”
In the summer of 2019, the world was introduced to Loeppky, with the TWU star joining Canada’s senior team and making his debut in the Volleyball Nations League.
“When he came into our group, he was eyes wide and ready to learn and have fun,” Bann says. “He brings a lot of that joy of playing to the group.”
In an instant, he fit in, coming alongside a litany of Spartan alums within Canada’s setup and looking every bit the part.
A pipe ball against France told the story – the serve, the bomb and the announcer stumbling over the name of this new kid on the block. Soon enough, the Loeppky name will be known worldwide.
Upon his return to TWU in the fall of 2019, he took things to yet another level.
This is the portion of the story when we learn the “why” behind Loeppky’s on-court invincibility.
“He doesn’t have bad touches,” Josephson says. “He doesn’t make bad decisions. He doesn’t have bad days. He’s blessed with the best shoulder I’ve ever seen in this gym. It’s tight, compact and explosive.
“He can hit external and internal. He has a really explosive last two steps and his ability to read the set, so he can high-point is at an elite level. He kind of has a slower approach and then he has this really tight arm swing, so the ball gets on you quicker than you think and it’s really fast.
“Then he has this incredible work rate.”
Sitting in an office on the TWU campus, Loeppky is recalling his volleyball journey. It doesn’t take long before he veers towards a conversation about his faith.
“Through the last four years, I’ve grown a lot with my own personal beliefs and my walk with Christ,” Loeppky says. “There was a time for sure where I wasn’t into it and I was really second-guessing everything and had a lot of doubts. I think being consistently involved in this culture and this environment has been life-changing. I’m so thankful that God let me come here.
“I don’t even know where I’d be at or what I’d be like if I went somewhere else.
“A lot of athletes in sport struggle with their sport being their identity. If you put all your identity into something other than Jesus, it’s not going to hold up. It’s been super cool how we’ve been able to excel as a team and a program, but, at the same time, not having it be our everything and just knowing that my identity is in Christ and he loves me, win or lose.”
It’s a powerful statement, but it’s every bit the Loeppky that has embraced TWU.
It’s also every bit the Loeppky who also Trinity Western on TSN this past year.
So there’s this play.
TSN’s personality Dan O’Toole called it the “…old fake-a-roo.” Loeppky has done it a few times, faking a swing with his right hand and dunking the ball past the block with his left hand. In his final year, he did it on back-to-back nights against UBC and the videos went viral, including an appearance on TSN’s Jay and Dan.
“I try to setup different ways to score,” Loeppky says. “I was spiking cross pretty much the whole game. Then, I think the play before I could tell they were jumping back on me a lot. When blockers are jumping back, I know that spot will be open. It has to be the right set.
“You just let it go by and you flush it. It’s like a free point in my mind.”
It was a play that went around the globe and was instantly etched in Spartan folklore.
For teammate Jacob Kern, it was cool for sure and he and his teammates certainly were excited in the moment, but they’ve seen it before. Many times.
“I think a lot of us take it for granted,” Kern says. “It’s almost like, ‘Whatever, it’s just Eric.’ He’s just one of the boys and I think we’re just used to what he does. It’s so normal. That lefty tip? Yea, I see that every day.”
It’s just Eric.
Except it’s not. It’s really, really not.
In the words of teammate Jordan Koslowsky during the senior-athlete appreciation night: “Eric is the best player that everyone roots for.”
Now, the kid with the good looks, the charm, the humility, the good dude vibes, the athleticism, the wicked arm and the killer instinct is going international. And, at TWU, he’ll never be forgotten.
Eric Loeppky’s story is the sixthpiece of an extensive 14-part series, detailing the people and the stories that make up Spartan Athletics.
Print copies of the SPARTA magazine are available for purchase. All proceeds go to Spartan families in need.