Remembering Chris Regenass

Posted by

Former Volleyroo and Australian volleyball legend Chris Regenass sadly passed away in January 2022 at the age of 57. Below are some collected memories of him as a player by those who played with and against him. The photos are linked under the recollections of those who provided them.

Steve Tutton (ex Volleyroo captain and Beach Volleyroo Head Coach, long time teammate with Northern Aurora, SASI, South Australia)

Chris made many sacrifices and a big commitment to our beautiful sport and made a massive contribution in the 80’s to our club(s), State Team and National Team and we thank him for helping make the teams he played in successful and rewarding.He joined a band of young aspiration and loyal group of young men in the early 80’s who trained hard and were focused on putting SA on the volleyball map and making their mark as a strong team. The team, Northern Aurora, created history by winning the inaugural National Volleyball League as the underdogs against the highly experienced and performed Fort St (NSW) team, and continued the winning form in the following 2 years – we had no right as we were young and inexperienced. Chris was a critical member of the team in that forgotten era of volleyball.

The SA Senior Men’s team went on to win consecutive National Seniorr Championships in the 80’s which had never been achieved before. There were many significant highlights with milestones of matches in Adelaide attracting several thousand fans to Apollo Stadium. It didn’t matter if they were National League matches or friendly matches with Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, or Italy…the local SA fans turned up in their thousands. I’m sure the management at Apollo Stadium was pleased when volleyball was no longer played there because we would be constantly hitting the roof in the warm-up and experience the plaster roofing tiles smashing on the floor after being dislodged.

Those were the “Good Ole Days”.

I remember Chris was smart. When we trained at Underdale, after a strong physical, mental and verbal war in the mini basketball or soccer games  (it was seriously, win at all costs!!) we would move into pepper and then spiking warmup. Chris would hit less than half the amount of balls as everyone else. He would aim for the open door. In those days you spiked the ball, chased it down and rejoined the line. He chased his ball through the open doorway and took a 3-5 min rest outside the gym. He was a big guy and needed a rest. My brother Mark and I were the setters of the team. We picked up on this strategy of Chris’, so we made sure that either the door was closed, or if it happened to be left open, we would give him a “bad set” deliberately, (laughs) just to make sure he did the “work” to be ready to compete. In hindsight, I think this helped him to become a formidable attacker.

I can remember the long training sessions at Underdale 3 times per week. Mark (Tutton) or I would drive Chris or Alex (Whitehead) back to their homes after these sessions when they didn’t have their own cars and lived in the far “south” of Adelaide. Literally the drive was almost an extra 30 minutes out of the way but such was the commitment to make sure everyone was able to attend trainings and also get home safely. In those days we had to work full-time and train part-time in the evenings in order to be the best we could be at our jobs which funded our volleyball trainings and trips to competitions.

I recall the multiple occasions in matches, the first referee would blow the whistle calling a double hit as Chris wase about to set. His hands were good, the best hands of the tall players in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and he continued to set forward or set regardless. These were some of the untold challenges Chris faced as a player.

Chris was a valuable member of our team. Those wonderful memories on and off the court bring a smile to my face and a feeling of pride in what our group could achieve.

Mark Tutton (ex Volleyroo setter, Steve’s brother, long time teammate with Northern Aurora, SASI, South Australia)

Chris started out in our team as one of our juniors along with my younger brother Reg and Lyndon Mills (both also Volleyroos). We pulled a team of young guys together in the late 70s and all developed as players and as a team through early 80s. Chris was an important part of those teams, whether it was club(s), state or national. He always started in position 2 with me in position 1, and was constantly trying to get me to run him off a crossover ball with Reg taking the quick. Essentially, he got sick of running quicks and wanted the chance to come over the top through the middle (with no block). He didn’t need worry too much about the block because his reach was so high and his quickness and agility was enough to put the ball away irrespective of who was in front of him. His blocking combination with my brother Stephen was the most formidable I’ve seen in Australia – there were times when I thought there was no way anyone was either going to get past or through them, so I just prepared for tips. Despite what Trevor Simmonds and Lyndon thought, I always considered Chris had better setting hands than both of them. He played some exceptional games but most people wouldn’t have seen the best ones which happened at our training sessions, particularly when it was 3-on-3 (backrow games) with him steaming in and Stephen or Trevor blocking, as well as Reg or Lyndon sweeping the court and Alex Whitehead swinging away. It all made for hard, tense competitive sessions. And, that was after our basketball warm-up which invariably featured a few dunks by Chris.

Trevor and Michaela Simmonds (Trevor ex Volleyroo captain, long time teammate with Northern Aurora, SASI, South Australia, Michaela long time South Australian representative)

Chris was a big part of what were some very special years and great memories for many of us.

Tony Naar (ex Volleyroo, teammate with Northern Aurora and South Australia)

I well remember moving to Adelaide in 1981 to join this ‘promising’ group of ‘kids’ at Northern Aurora. Chris stood head and shoulders above his teammates but neither he nor they asked for or gave any quarter when they competed against each other at practice, including the warm-up games so well described by Mark Tutton.

One of the things we implemented with Northern Aurora was a spiking warm-up strategy designed to intimidate our opponents as well as to psyche up ourselves. It involved coach Harley Simpson throwing ‘metre balls’ right on top of the net as the players looped through. People used to come just to watch the team’s warm-up and the sight of Chris rising above the net to hit another ‘roof ball’ was certainly intimidating! He was a big part of the extraordinary success of that group of ‘kids’ and a changing of the guard in Australian volleyball.

Internationally, that manifested itself when the Australian junior team, containing Chris and many of the South Australian juniors of that era, beat Japan for the first time ever, in Canberra (Pacific Rim Junior Championships 1980).

I always felt that Chris was the first Australian player with the size and the skills to be able to play professionally in the big leagues in Europe. However, convincing him was another matter. It would have been a tough, lonely path and – although many of us couldn’t understand it – he saw other things in his life besides volleyball. Not a bad attitude, now that I look back on it.

It was also no surprise that SANFL teams salivated at the prospect of securing his services. I recall that he played some games (for South Adelaide) but, really, he was a volleyballer through and through.

He was a special person and an extraordinary volleyballer.

David Eldridge (ex SASI Asst Coach)

I was honoured to watch Harley Simpson and the SASI boys train at Underdale. One training Trevor stuffed up a pass (one of the two in his life) and the ball rocketed into the bottom of the net. Mark Tutton coming in from position 1 slid in on his back and back set a C quick to Chris who buried it. I just stood there in awe. The fact that Mark thought he could set it, the fact that he expected Chris to be there, and the fact that Chris expected Mark to make the set, and that the squad considered that what I had just witnessed, was normal just blew me away. It was a special honour watching those guys train.

Chris Madden (ex SA junior teammate)

I have memories of him blocking balls in warm up while standing on the floor. I have a car story about him. When in a state junior squad in 1980 we played in the Wallabies tournament in Melbourne over the January long weekend. For some reason we made the trip from Adelaide to Melbourne via Wodonga to have a couple of days training together there. I traveled with John Lines and his parents and as they had the biggest car available Chris was also a passenger – in the middle of the back seat so he could stretch his legs a bit more. My enduring memory of that trip was being wedged under Chris’s armpit for most of the drive as my shoulder only came up to that part of him! I was thankful that my parents met us in Melbourne and I could return to Adelaide with more space to myself.  

Quinton Smith (ex Volleyroo teammate)

As the shortest guy with Chris the biggest, he and I would often stand next to each other in pre-game line ups for fun. He did have a great sense of humour.

Russell Borgeaud (ex Volleyroo captain and Head Coach)

There are many Chris stories but one that a friend and I remembered recently was watching him drive a small car (maybe a Barina) around Sydney. I have no idea how he did it. Watching him fold himself into it was always a funny sight.

Edi Vukosa (ex Volleyroo)

I remember correctly after a VTA training we saw him fold himself up into the Barina and thought did that really happen? A gentle soul.

Matthew Perry (ex Volleyroo)

Chris and I had many, many good times together.

The Holden Barina has been mentioned, as has his intimidating blocking. I recall that he often destroyed his feet with so much training, but I also vividly remember him destroying Geoff Hart’s face with an overpass hit during training in Sydney one day. Both terrifying and funny at the same time.

Mark Tucek (ex National Junior Team and State junior opponent)

Chris Regenass was a name I haven’t heard of in such a long time. My first memory of Chris was from U/17 National Championships in Burnie in 1981. I watched him leisurely blocking some warm up balls (maybe against Tassie) while standing on the ground! I’m sure he even blocked one ball backwards with the back of his hands! That was the start of a long run of volleyball lessons handed out by the dominance of Chris and the S.A boys over the coming years.

Gary O’Donnell (ex NSW State player)

I have great memories of Chris in the playing days of Northern Aurora/ South Australia and Fort St/ NSW battles and unsurprisingly being one of many spikers ‘roofed’ by him!

Talking of roofs, at an Australian Championships in Queensland in 82 or so there was $50 on offer if anyone could hit the roof in the warm up at QEII. Unsurprisingly Chris cleaned that up at least three times.

Trevor Skinner (ex Volleyroo and Victorian State player)

We shared the same court many times – unfortunately for me he was on the other side of the net.

I played against Chris in Juniors then later in open age.

He was a champion player. He was definitely one of hardest players to hit past when he was in the middle. Long arms and big hands – he blocked me out a few times!

Peter Grootenboer (ex South Australian junior State player)

I grew up playing in South Australia and played in some junior teams (and the Tiger Shrikes) with Chris (or Jolly as we knew him – an abbreviation of ’Jolly Green Giant’). Other players around that time were Reg Tutton, Lyndon Mills, Alex Whitehead, Andrew Burdin, Tim Pedlar, and Mike Litchfield.

I remember him returning from a trip to Japan with a supply of ‘real’ volleyball shoes, especially made for him by the Mizuno company. Obviously Chris had big feet and so always had to have special big shoes, and he had to play volleyball in these while we all had Onitsuka Rotations (the flimsiest shoes ever made), so he was excited to have his own volleyball shoes.

Stephen Power (ex Volleyroo and Junior National Team teammate)

Niels Kingma

1988 Bicentennial Cup v Japan Tobacco – Niels Kingma, Chris Regenass

Click for more VolleyroosAustralian National Team, Australian Volleyball History

3 comments

  1. Hi Mark, Good article. That’s sad news. A name I hadn’t thought of in a long time. I didn’t realise he was only a few years older than me, thought he was much older, but then, that could also be the perception of a 20-22 yo, anyone older is always much older.

    I remember taking Chris home after a training session, in my VW beetle. How he folded himself in was hilarious, and a mystery. He said at the time he couldn’t have driven, because he couldn’t get his legs below the dash, but in the passenger seat, he just concertinaed himself in and we drove home! He was always friendly, and had an aura around him. Remembered fondly.

    Hope you and your family are well. Bron. Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    1. Re unknown person in photo of 1983 team in Darwin. It is Warren Rae who was President of the NT Volleyball Association at the time.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s