UFV Cascades’ Joel Kleingeltink hammers the ball past the block of his VIU Mariners opponents during PacWest Conference action earlier this season. The fifth-year right-side hitter from Langley was named a conference all-star for the third straigth year on Wednesday.

From walk-on to all-star

Joel Kleingeltink went from nowhere to play to a team leader for the UFV Cascades

Some high school athletes just have that look, like everyone knows they are destined to succeed at the post-secondary level in their chosen sport. They are as a can’t miss product, coaches drooling over them, trying to entice them to their respective programs.

That is not the path Joel Kleingeltink travelled, but he did find his way.

Coming out of the volleyball powerhouse that is Langley Christian, Kleingeltink didn’t have any interest from colleges or universities.

He chose to focus on his education, enrolling at UFV, and a member of the Cascades men’s  program, Jon Dvorak, convinced him to come out to one of their practices. This was in the spring, after the team’s season had ended, so Kleingeltink did and then continued to do so, eventually earning a walk-on role.

Kleingeltink put his head down and went to work.

To say his time with the Cascades was a success would be an understatement.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old was named a PacWest Conference first team all-star, the third straight year he has earned conference accolades. The previous two times he has been a second team selection.

The six-foot-four right-side hitter led the Cascades offensively this season with 240 kills and 328 offensive points, as well as collecting 33 service aces and has been a force defensively with 55 blocks as the team went 17-7 to finish second in the regular season. He is also a two-time academic all-Canadian with a third nod likely coming when the winners are announced in April.

He credits hard work and determination in allowing him to succeed.

“When I was young and in high school, I was always one of the better players,” he said, not a trace of boasting in his voice.

“Sports came easy. To be a good player didn’t take much effort or work, it just came naturally.”

The all-star award means a lot in terms of how far he has come as an athlete.

“I think the takeaway is that with enough hard work and effort, you can surprise yourself and those around you with your accomplishments,” Kleingeltink said.

Cascades coach Kyle Donen remembers seeing Kleingeltink playing back in high school.

“He was a gangly, uncoordinated kid who had a passion for the game,” Donen recalled.

Donen took over the UFV program three years ago and when he saw Kleingeltink, there was a significant change from what he had seen a few years earlier.

“I saw a physical specimen who was primed and ready to be on the floor. He had put in the time in the summer to earn an opportunity to get more court time and I gave it to him right out of the gate,” Donen said.

Kleingeltink was always confident in his abilities and knows he never reached his full potential in high school.

“I just wanted to see how far it could take me or where I could end up,” he said.

Having also played basketball in high school, he chose volleyball because he knew the latter sport offered him more of a future.

“Being a really skinny kid, I just thought I would get bullied around (on the court),” he explained.

Back then, he weighed 170 pounds, but has since added about 30 pounds.

“He worked really hard to get to where he is. Sometimes when you come in as a guy who is not expected to be that person but then realizes what he is capable of, I think that is partly what drove him,” Donen said.

“He saw the opportunity to be that type of player for the program and he really took the bull by the horns to speak and never really looked back.

“I think he will leave a lasting impression on the program as a character guy.”

The fifth-year business student — who is set to graduate this spring — isn’t quite ready to quit playing just yet.

“We have a good squad this year and we can definitely make some noise in the playoffs,” he said.

The Cascades are competing this weekend at the PacWest provincial championships with UFV the second seed for the six-team tournament.

And Kleingeltink is one of two former Langley Christian students to earn PacWest all-star honours as third-year libero Isaiah Dahl — who also happens to be his roommate — was a second team all-star selection.

Donen knows that Kleingeltink has left a lasting impression.

“I think we’ll miss him off the court as much as we do on the court. He’s a character guy who isn’t easily replaced.”

Gary Ahuja Langley Times file photo

Joel Kleingeltink was a standout basketball and volleyball player for Langley Christian before switching his focus to volleyball with the UFV Cascades. The fifth-year senior was named a PacWest first team all-star.

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