From walk-on to all-star, Kleingeltink has established memorable legacy with Cascades

On Saturday, Joel Kleingeltink takes to the Envision Athletic Centre hardwood for the last home game of his University of the Fraser Valley volleyball career, and he arrives at the milestone in distinguished fashion.

The fifth-year right side from Langley, B.C. is the Cascades men’s volleyball program’s most decorated player of recent vintage – he’s a two-time PACWEST all-star (with a third all-star nod highly likely to arrive next week), and a two-time CCAA Academic All-Canadian (with a third such award also likely in April).

It’s hard to reconcile Kleingeltink’s current circumstances with his humble beginnings as a volleyball prospect – virtually unrecruited out of Langley Christian School, he joined the Cascades as a walk-on and didn’t have a proper scholarship in place until his fourth year with the team.

What a remarkable rise it’s been.

“I didn’t get any real (post-secondary volleyball) offers,” Kleingeltink recalled earlier this week. “I talked to a couple of coaches in the PACWEST who my high school coach kind of connected me with, and there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. My plan was to go to UFV or another local school and just get my schooling.

“I ran into somebody who was playing here at the time, Jon Dvorak, and he told me to just show up at one of their practices – it was in the spring, after their season had ended. So I showed up and kept showing up, and made the team.”

The next five years went by in a blur for Kleingeltink, but there are several memories which stand out. He can remember, clear as day, the first time Greg Russell – the Cascades’ head coach at the time – summoned him off the bench for his first PACWEST game action.

“It might have been the fourth or fifth set in the home opener (vs. Columbia Bible College) my first year,” he recalled. “I wasn’t expecting to really play or get in the game, but Greg put me in specifically to try to block one of their players who we knew was probably going to get the ball at that point of the game.

“All I could think was, ‘Don’t mess up, don’t hit the net . . . don’t get noticed, basically. I think I got a slowdown or he (the Bearcats player) hit around me, but I put up a solid block, I like to think!”

A huge part of Kleingeltink’s development was filling out his slender 6’4” frame – he tipped the scales at 170 pounds when he arrived at UFV, and heard every skinny joke in the book as a rook.

“You can ask anyone who played with me my first two years or went to high school with me – I could turn sideways and probably disappear for a few minutes,” he said with a chuckle. “The joke (on the UFV team) was always that I was a buck-fifty soaking wet.’

“In my first year, we were going around the net during a game and someone from the other team yelled, ‘Get No. 13 a cheeseburger!’ like I was withering away.”

Photo courtesy Northfield Photography

It wasn’t so much cheeseburgers that did the trick as long hours in the weight room, but Kleingeltink now checks in at an explosive 200 pounds.

After nailing down a starting spot with the Cascades in his third season and continuing to progress in his fourth – earning conference second team all-star nods both years – Kleingeltink is truly peaking as a senior. He leads PACWEST in total offence (3.99 points/set) and ranks among the league leaders in blocks (0.73/set, third), kills (2.88/set, fourth) and aces (0.37/set, ninth).

“He’s worked really hard off the court to get to where he’s at, and for me, watching him play the last three years, he’s really progressed as a leader,” Cascades head coach Kyle Donen said. “He’s a very likeable guy, and he’s really bought into the program at the school.

“I think he’s going to leave a mark on the program that doesn’t happen all the time. I think we’ll miss him as much off the court as we do on the court. He’s a character guy who isn’t easily replaced.”

The Cascades volleyball teams host the CBC Bearcats on Saturday in their final games of the PACWEST regular season. The women’s game starts at 5 p.m. followed by the men at 7 p.m. in the Envision Athletic Centre North Gym, and Kleingeltink will be celebrated in a Senior Night ceremony prior to the men’s game.

Kleingeltink is set to graduate in the spring with a business degree, and he’s already arranged his next move. He’s currently working two days a week at DeVry Greenhouses in Chilliwack, and will start full-time there as an account manager as soon as he finishes his exams.

In the meantime, there’s a matter of chasing a PACWEST title and a national championship berth with a team that’s ranked No. 6 in the nation.

“It’s crazy to think where I started and where I am now,” Kleingeltink summarized with a smile. “It’s definitely been a climb.”

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The University of the Fraser Valley is situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Stó:lō peoples. The Stó:lō have an intrinsic relationship with what they refer to as S’olh Temexw (Our Sacred Land); therefore, we express our gratitude and respect for the honour of living and working in this territory.

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