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Corey Fitzpatrick felt natural going in to basically be the backup quarterback.

When his Medicine Hat College Rattlers men's volleyball team opened the second half of the regular season on Jan. 8, his squad trailed the Keyano College Huskies by two sets at the Snake Pit, and starting setter Garrett Popplestone had to leave due to illness.

Fitzpatrick moved from his right side hitting spot to setter, which was the position he regularly played before joining the Rattlers. Not looking a bit out of place, Fitzpatrick orchestrated a rally, which saw the Rattlers claim the next three sets 27-25, 26-24 and 15-13 and the match.

"It was like going back to my roots really," said Fitzpatrick, the team's third year co-captain from Glen Ewen, Sask. "I hadn't set since early November.

"I guess it came natural after a bit. I had a couple of good sets. I had one, where I got called on the hands, and that was a bit irritating.

"I just pushed through it and made it through."

Popplestone wasn't the only starter to come down sick in that contest. Rookie left side hitter Connan Friesen was limited to playing three sets but Cal Vanderschuit filled in.

"Garrett wasn't feeling well, and I think that was coming off on the other players," said Fitzpatrick, whose Rattlers host the Lakeland College Rustlers at 8 p.m. Friday night at the Snake Pit. "When I went out there, everybody kind of loosened up.

"We were joking around. Everybody got a little more comfortable. Everybody started doing their jobs better."

Being thrown into a leadership role is nothing new to Fitzpatrick. Growing up, hockey was his main sport, and he was always looked upon to be a leader. When he took up volleyball in Grade 9, he gravitated towards the setter position.

"I have always been a captain or an alternate captain," said Fitzpatrick, who also spent one season as a backup setter with the University of Regina Cougars. "I kind of like that little bit of weight on my shoulders and to be able to help the other guys."

Last season, Fitzpatrick took on the role of right side hitter due to an injury Brodie Haugan. He maintained that role this season, but Rattlers head coach Kyle Pushkarenko has no problem with putting Fitzpatrick in a setter.

"We train him, and he has setting reps in practice," said Pushkarenko. "He is the closest thing to a backup setter, if Garrett should get hurt.

"Corey went in and got the job done, and that is kind of what he does in practice as well. It goes to prove how much the reps in practice are important and how that experience translates into game play."

The Rattlers will host the Rustlers again at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The Rattlers are 2-0 in the second half, while the Rustlers are 0-2. Fitzpatrick will return to the right side, and he hopes his club can build on what happened in the sweep of Keyano.

"We had a big win, and now everybody is more comfortable," he said.

DARREN STEINKE
dsteinke@medicinehatnews.com

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