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Local recruits looking forward to inaugural season with Lakers

'It’s pretty special to say you’re going to play for your hometown university'

Pursuit is a sports feature series highlighting athletes, coaches and staff and significant sporting events from North Bay and the surrounding area.         


There will be some local talent suiting up for the Nipissing Lakers men’s volleyball team for the upcoming season. Jude Caruso and Ben Franz were signed to the team by Head Coach Eric Yung.  

Caruso, a setter from Callander is a graduate of St. Joseph Scollard Hall and Ben Franz is an outside hitter, who is finishing his high school run with Chippewa.  

Both Caruso and Franz also played with the North Bay Youth Volleyball Club Lakers this past season. 

"I am super excited to sign with Nipissing. Volleyball has been a part of my life for most of my life and I am honoured to be able to continue my journey in university,” says Franz.  

"Being able to sign with the Lakers is a huge accomplishment for me. Playing university volleyball has been a goal of mine since I started volleyball," says Caruso. "Words can't explain the pure joy and excitement of being able to continue my volleyball career with an amazing team and coaching like the Lakers." 

It has been seven years since the Lakers last signed a local athlete, and the first time since they moved to OUA/Usports play.  

2022 was a big year for Caruso, being named the MVP of both his high school team and club team and as captain of the Bears he helped them reach OFSAA that year, the first time the Bears had made the tournament since 2003.  

“It was a big deal. I had been playing with my friends since the fifth grade and so it was quite an experience to play at that level,” he says. 

Caruso got involved because his older sister played before him. He started at the U12 level and has never looked back. “The second I started playing I just fell in love with it. I love how the play is always going on, it’s just been a passion of mine since then.” 

Caruso says it was at a Lakers' Volleyball camp in which he was first approached by Coach Yung. “I didn’t even think I was near their radar until this past August and from there I got invited to a showcase in December and he told me that I had cracked the recruiting list. I went to a couple of practices and he let me know that I was moving up that list. A couple of weeks ago he reached out and it was really exciting. I called my parents right away and they were excited.” 

Franz got into the game at a later stage, playing for the first time in grade 11. “I was playing hockey for quite some time, I played competitively for six years, but I started to get really tall and so I started pursuing other sports and volleyball was one of them.” 

With a 6-foot-9 wingspan and a 36-inch vertical, Franz found a home for himself off the ice and found immediate success with the Raiders volleyball team.  

“Two of my teams went to OFSAA – last year we won at home and that was a great experience, even though it was during COVID and there weren’t any fans it was still awesome.” 

Franz says he knew he was on the Lakers radar during the showcase event in December.  

“That’s when I knew I was on the list and when I found out they wanted to recruit me I was very excited. I went home and told my parents and we celebrated.” 

Franz says his coach Mason Truswell has been a big part of helping him learn and grow quickly in the game.  

“Both of these guys have club experience, which is the main way to recruit into the OUA now,” says Yung. “The club level is a high level of play and they were getting a lot of reps which really helps when you’re moving into that next stage.” 

Yung adds, "This is the highest level of volleyball that someone can play in Canada. We’re one of the few Usports team sports where you can segue right from university to the National team. If you look at our National team, a majority, if not all, played USports.”  

Caruso and Franz say that means they know they are in for a challenge when they hit the floor this fall for their inaugural OUA season, something they are looking forward to doing in front of a home audience.  

“It’s pretty special to say you’re going to play for your hometown university,” says Franz.  

“I hope this sparks more interest locally in boys volleyball,” says Caruso. “I know my little brother wants to play volleyball competitively now because of this and that’s a big deal to me, I’m proud of being able to encourage that.” 

Yung says this was part of the goal of having that grassroots program in North Bay, to be able to build a strong foundation that could feed into the university program. Yung adds that both Caruso and Franz are strong players coming out of the program.  

“I’ve seen them both play at the club level and they have both come a long way. Ben had a tendency to be timid when he first started in the sport and Jude was going to need to improve on his agility. To see their progress firsthand and how they have completely refined those abilities in a good way is kudos to North Bay Youth Volleyball Club,” says Yung shouting out Coaches Charlie Hancock and Tim Ryan.  

“Not to mention at the high school level we have some alumni coaching these guys this past year including Mason Truswell at Chippewa and Lyndon Sonego and Steve Wood at Scollard Hall, it makes us incredibly proud to have alumni giving back to the game. It is one of the aspects we focus on when we talk about our team culture at Nipissing. ‘Learn, Live, Teach’ We pride ourselves as a program that gives back to the community.” 

Yung says by signing both Caruso and Franz, it shows there is trust in the North Bay Youth Lakers volleyball program to produce good athletes that can have success beyond their playing career at the post-secondary level.  

“The mental fortitude these two have demonstrated over the past few months will bode well for them as they continue on their personal and volleyball journey. They both could’ve taken the easy way out and accepted other offers to play in a different league, but they are up for the challenge. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of athletes who are from smaller communities just like ours that don’t even give it a shot because of the ‘big fish, small pond’ mentality, where they are too fearful of failure. There is no doubt an intimidation factor when you look at playing for a university in a big sport. Kudos to their coaches and parents, who not only prepared them physically but more importantly, mentally to have the courage to take risks. 

Caruso says, “One thing that was really important to me was the camps that Coach Yung had where he replicated the process of what it's like to be a varsity athlete. It gave me a glimpse of what I’m getting myself into and it made me really excited to be part of it now.”  

Yung adds, “When these guys stepped into our gym at 17 years old and they are staring across at 23 to 25 year-olds, I can’t imagine what kind of nerves they had, but I think our guys did a really good job of making sure that these young guys are fit and ready to play. I am excited to watch these two fine young men grow over the next five years “ 

If you have a story idea for the ‘Pursuit’ series, send Matt an email at [email protected] 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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