There aren’t too many six-foot-three middle blockers who make it to the top of the volleyball world.
It’s a position dominated by giants, unless you happen to be a special talent like Al Coulter.
“I used to love playing against the big monster guys,” the legendary Canadian volleyballer and London native said. “I could see their block because they were so high and just carve around them all day long. I had a really quick arm and the big jump and nobody could read me.
“That’s why I kept playing for 13 years on the national team.”
The Calgary-based Coulter played in two Olympics and was a mainstay with the Canadian program, celebrating his induction Thursday into the London Sports Hall of Fame along with former NHL goaltender Craig Billington, paralympic swimming star Adam Purdy, soccer builder Tom Partalas and the 1971-73 Oakridge secondary school boys’ hockey team, which won three provincial titles.
The ceremony was a great excuse to see his daughter Jacqueline, a third-year member of Fanshawe College’s girl’s volleyball squad, in action this week.
“My youngest daughter is playing in the (Calgary) high school championships and we won Monday,” he said. “So I flew on the red-eye here, helped out at Fanshawe practice Tuesday and watched the Falcons win (3-0) Wednesday. Now, we’re playing in the high school finals, so I’ve got to rip back and coach again Friday night.”
His eldest daughter Alissa, a pro player in Greece, is also a member of the Canadian senior women’s team.
All four of Coulter’s children are volleyball players. His wife Michelle Cameron is a former Olympic synchronized swimming gold medalist with Carolyn Waldo.
“It’s funny how it turned out because I grew up in a hockey family,” said Al, whose brother Neal spent some time with the New York Islanders. “I broke my leg and went into volleyball in Grade 10.”
That’s when he met his future mentor Vaughan Peckham and soon made the provincial team.
“I was heading to school at Laurentian,” Coulter recalled, “and Vaughan called to tell me he had just been offered the coaching job at Western and would I think about staying here. Sure enough, I changed and he was an unbelievable coach.
“We had a great team and won the Ontario title in 1979. He taught us all to play and he became a good friend.”
You can trace the men’s national team during the past 40 years through London – from Coulter to fellow hall of famer Paul Duerden and now starting setter TJ Sanders.
“We’ve only really been to the Olympics three times that we qualified,” he said. “We went in ’76 and never won a set as the hosts. Then, we went in ’84 and ’92 – the teams I was on – and we hadn’t been back until this last one (2016). Glenn Hoag finally got a team back to where we should be.
“We have some great players coming up who should be just awesome and it’s great to see.”
The best high school volleyball players in London still receive the Al Coulter award. Those local links remain strong.
Last year, Al was coaching his youngest daughter at nationals when he bumped into a London under-16 club squad.
“The daughter of my brother’s best friend was on that team,” he said, “so his wife comes up to say hello. The coach told them, ‘You know the Al Coulter award? Let’s get our picture with him.’ That was kind of fun.
“I keep watching the new players coming up and they have amazing teams out of London all the time. It’s a real hot-bed for volleyball. It’s great to see.”
They often rise to the top against bigger foes, just like Coulter did for so many years.
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