Family Ties: Home Away From Home

Family Ties: Home Away From Home

It’s one thing to be family members or to be a high-level athlete. It’s another thing to be family members AND high-level athletes. 

That’s the case for Andrea Bell, Ryan, Garret and Emily Dickson. The three Dicksons are siblings, while Andrea is their first cousin. All hailing from Miramichi, NB, those aren’t the only things connecting these four, as they are all varsity members of St. Thomas University’s volleyball programs.

What makes this family even more interesting is that they all took different paths to the STU volleyball family. 

Ryan, the eldest of the four, had never really played competitive volleyball until late in high school. Even then, baseball was his sport. A starting centre fielder for Team New Brunswick at the Canada Games, Ryan always seemed destined to play baseball in University. He did just that, playing for the UNB Cougars baseball club, while being enrolled at UNB. Ryan decided to opt out of a redshirt position with UNB volleyball to focus on his studies and play Wednesday night pick up volleyball at Ecole Sainte-Anne. That was the birth of his Tommies journey. He met then assistant coach Will Rochlow who pulled some minor recruiting and then in December of 2015 Ryan joined the Tommies volleyball team for the second semester. 

“Will Rochlow noticed me and said they needed a middle,” said Ryan. “What he said was ‘we are going to Nationals this year and we need a middle. You can sign on and take 3 courses and it's basically a free trip to Vancouver.’ He never mentioned that we would have to win ACAA’s to go to Nationals.”

The Tommies did, in fact, win an ACAA Championship that year, defeating top seeded UNBSJ 3-2 (25-27, 25-21, 19-25, 25-13, 15-9), punching their ticket to CCAA Nationals in New Westminster, BC hosted by Douglas College.

It isn’t just athletic skill that Ryan brings to the Tommies. His involvement in the community and classroom is second to none as well. A CCAA National Scholar at STU, Dean’s List student in his final two years at UNB, Founder and President of the STU Outreach Program, current Vice-President of the Student Athlete Council at STU, secretary of the Economics society, and formerly a peer mentor, a peer tutor, and co-chair finance for the East Coast Student Leadership Conference.

Andrea, the second oldest of the crew, is a new Tommie after transferring from Mount Allison, where she played hockey for the Mounties for one season. She had one goal and one assist in 17 games as a rookie with the Mounties in her first year before taking a year off from hockey, and ultimately deciding to head to St. Thomas. Her sister Jennifer, a former Mountie herself, is now playing hockey for the jump start UNB Reds women’s hockey team. 

“I knew that if I was to transfer schools and not lose any credits I had to move after my second year. So at Christmas I began applying to different universities,” Bell said about her journey to STU. “I applied to both StFX and STU. In high school I had really enjoyed both hockey and volleyball and looked to these two schools for my sporting options. After coming to Fredericton and talking to Don McKay at the ACAA volleyball finals in March, I decided that I wanted to come to St. Thomas and try out for volleyball.”

Garret, the middle Dickson child, has been an absolute force for the Tommies in the middle. Don’t let his boyish smile fool you, there’s plenty of power hiding behind that smile. Standing at 6’4”, Garret had experience playing volleyball in high school, but his lead sport was basketball. Garret, combined with a trio of current UNBSJ Seawolves basketball players (Ian Watters, Zac Miersch and Jacob Vickers), among others, to win the NBIAA high school basketball provincial title in his final year. With all that basketball talent on the team, it was Garret who walked away with tournament MVP honours. Garret is one of only a few players to win that tournament’s MVP and not pursue basketball at the next level. It wasn’t due to lack of offers to play as he could have joined the above mentioned three at UNBSJ, but he chose STU volleyball for many reasons. 

“I mostly came to STU because Ryan was here, and I wanted to play with him,” said Garret. “With the offers to play basketball, I chose volleyball because I like it a lot more, and my mom played in university too, so it made sense to me.”

That leaves Emily. While she may be the youngest, she might just have the most polished background when it comes to volleyball. Having represented New Brunswick as part of Volleyball New Brunswick, as well as being a part of her high school’s undefeated season and provincial championship in her grade 11 year. 

“I was trying to decide where to go, mom and I would talk to Don McKay about other schools and he would tell me the truth about everywhere and never pressured me to come to STU. Mom said STU is closer, and we have family in Fredericton with our uncle, Jenn and Andrea and Ryan and Garret,” said Emily about her decision-making process. “Don has been a family friend for years. He used to coach our mom when she was younger in Bathurst. I help coach his volleyball camp, so with Don and everyone it just felt like coming home here.”

Whatever their path to STU was, volleyball is in their blood. Carla Dickson, mother to Ryan, Garret and Emily and aunt to Andrea, played volleyball at UNB and shared UNB’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1994, was AUAA (AUS) MVP in ‘93-94 and ‘94-95 and was CIAU (U-Sport) 2nd Team All-Canadian both of those years.

“I think it is a special situation having them all at one school,” said Carla. “Even though they all took a different path and had different experiences with the sport, they all figured out what was needed and gave 110% to make sure they were going to continue to play volleyball at the next level.”

Miramichi has a tight knit volleyball community featuring a handful of families, some with STU connections. The Dicksons, VanBuskirks, Hierlihys, Doaks, and the Allains to name a few.  The women’s team has four Miramichi natives, Emily, Andrea, Jolie Allain (1st year), and Marissa Hallihan (1st year) while the men’s team has three, Garret, Ryan and Evan VanBuskirk (3rd year).  

“There’s a generation above us who were really into it and it seems to be starting to come back up through. A lot of people our age and a bit younger are getting really involved with it,” said Ryan.  

“I guess you could say Ryan paved the way for his siblings in sport and all areas of life,” said Carla. “He sets the bar high and they try to see if they can reach it, or even out-do him.”

It’s hard to imagine the path everyone would have taken had Ryan chose to stick with UNB as a red-shirt, all we can be certain of is how thankful the Tommies family is that they are all here.