Athletes Abroad: Madawaska Overseas

From the Toronto Premier League, Ray Szeto and Pedro Jukowski are former teammates. The Madawaska Madmen picked Ray in 2017 and protected him in 2018 and Pedro was the Pre-signed International Player in 2018.

We asked these two athletes a couple of questions to get to know them a little better!


Tell me a little about Ray Szeto. HOw did he end up in volleyball?

Ray spiking

Ray spiking

Ray: When I was younger I tried to play every sport possible. Basketball was my favourite when I was in public school and in early high school. I also played Badminton and made it to OFSAA with my partner! I also played rugby in Grade 9/10 but then switch to Track in Grade 11/12. Volleyball eventually trumped all the sports going into Grade 10. The summer prior, I had my big growth spurt and became pretty physical with my vertical. Eventually, I decided I wanted to play in university. I didn’t play club and I didn’t know much about university volleyball so I didn’t know what to do next. Luckily, my high school went to the annual York University high school tournament and the head coach of York saw me play and decided to recruit me.

I didn’t know about the opportunity to play pro until the end of my 3rd year in university. I had just become an All-Canadian and I had received random Facebook messages from random people in Europe asking me if I wanted to play professionally and if they could represent me as their agent. After that, I started looking into the whole business and got information from other friends that had similar questions and next thing you know, I became pro!

Pedro - Can you talk about Professional volleyball in brazil?

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In Brazil, Volleyball is quite a big sport and there’s a lot of talented athletes. It can be quite difficult to play pro because there is so much competition.

My first experience with a professional team in Brazil was when I was 17 years old. The best thing I was able to take from this opportunity was the mentorship I received and just learning as much as possible to be able to compete at that level of the sport and stay there. I really think having a positive mindset is what really helped me look at it from a learning and growing perspective. I think it really helped make me a better athlete.

Ray - You have been lucky to have some other Canadians on your teams while playing pro, does that help make it feel more like home while playing abroad?

Ray high fives teammates

Ray high fives teammates

Yeah, totally! In my first year playing overseas, Marc Wilson was one of my teammates and we had previously played together on Team O and was a fellow OUA member. The last two years, I’ve had some west coast Canadians. It’s definitely a bonus to have Canadian teammates to hang with off the court.

Pedro, your younger sister, Pietra Jukowski, is playing Volleyball professionally in Brazil. What was it like having a sibling growing up who played the sport as well?

Pedro setting the ball

Pedro setting the ball

Pedro: It’s nice having a sister that also plays volleyball. It’s a shared family experience. I followed my dad’s footsteps - he played in the Olympics and World Championships when he was younger. Growing up, I always had a ball in my hands and at age 11, I started playing club volleyball with his encouragement.

My sister, she’s 3 years younger, she followed in my footsteps by playing in the same club and then also pursing professional volleyball. There was no competition, just shared love of the sport. Our mentality was always to be better than the day before, so we always pushed each other to do better!

Pedro - You've been playing pro longer than most athletes in canada would at your age, What is it about the sport that keeps you fired up? 

Pedro high fives teammates

Pedro high fives teammates

Pedro: My love for volleyball came from a very young age! Some of my favourite memories come from when I was a kid playing volleyball with my family in our garden in my old home. To become a professional athlete was always the dream, even as a child. The sport at the elite level is full of learning, being involved and having great amounts of courage under moments of pressure. I like the routine that comes with practicing and playing. I really enjoy being involved with my team and the relationships I’ve built through the sport.

Ray - What were some of the highlights and challenges you faced this season?

Ray spiking

Ray spiking

There’s 2 main highlights that I think of for this past season.

First, beating Berlin in the semi-finals of the German Cup. We were down 2 sets and came back to force a 5th set and won!

Second, was playing in the German Cup Final. The whole process leading up to the match was exciting and playing in front of over 10,000 fans was a great feeling.

The main challenge we’ve had this season was our spin serve passing. We have a very small gym and the roof is not very high. Maintaining big spin servers was a big challenge for us.

Ray - How does your varsity life carry over into your professional life? Do you keep in touch with anyone?

Since I’ve graduated, the coaching staff at York has changed completely so I’m not too familiar with the new staff. I still try and keep in touch with my old coach Mike Chumbley. I do make an effort to keep in touch with old teammates though, some of the guys I played with at York University are some of my best mates. Paul Jakubiak, Nik Sandic and Marko Dacic [All of these athletes have played in the Premier League]. I get tons of support from them throughout my pro seasons.

Athletes Abroad: 1st year overseas

Keaton Strom and Riley Friesen were teammates in the inaugural season of the Calgary Premier League, both playing for the JVC Timberjacks. Riley Friesen was notably the 2nd round draft pick.  

You can find both of these athletes playing in Europe this season. Keaton is playing in Sweden with Habo Wolley for his first professional contract and Riley is in his 2nd contract in Denmark with Middelfart.


How did you first get involved in volleyball? Was there a person or reason that got you started in the sport? 

Keaton Strom blocking (No.4 jersey)

Keaton Strom blocking (No.4 jersey)

Keaton: My volleyball career got started late as I was a basketball player growing up. I played volleyball casually between seasons just to keep in shape! I started playing club in grade 11 (U17) and then my love for the sport took over basketball after a really enjoyable high school season. I haven’t looked back since!

Riley: I first got involved in the sport in grade 8. I was an active child, playing every sport I could. There was something distinctly different about volleyball that made fall in love with the feeling of the game. My mom influenced me the most as she had been a volleyball player in her youth playing for the University of Manitoba and a brief career with the national team. She encouraged me to try out for the local club team after I expressed my feelings for the game.


Do you have any major goals you want to reach in your professional career?

Riley Friesen serving

Riley Friesen serving

Keaton: My top goal is to make it to Italy’s 2nd division. I’ve always wanted to live in Italy and learn the language, so if I can play ball and do that, I’d be over the moon! I’m also exploring the idea of making a run for the Canadian National B team this summer…but it’s more of a dream than a conscious goal for now.

Riley: Not at this time. I’d like to use my career as a tool to travel Europe and experience living in a different part of the world for 1 or 2 years before pursuing a business career.


Keaton - this is your 1st contract overseas, how has that experience been so far? Have you had any challenges or successes this season that you want to share?

Keaton Strom

Keaton Strom

So far, it’s been amazing!

Definitely not without some adversity, but overall, I’ve been really enjoying myself here in Sweden. Most of all, I’ve been loving being able to have volleyball in the forefront of my day and mind to focus on without any significant distractions around me.


Riley - this is also your first year overseas, but your 2nd contract since you just switched from Greece to Denmark. Can you talk about why you changed teams?

Riley Friesen

Riley Friesen

In Greece I struggled to perform, I was ineffective in both passing and attacking during my time there. It was different than playing University or club. It was no long playing for fun, competition or love of the game. It was now a business. You had to perform and if you didn’t to the level the team needs…well there is no obligation for them to keep you around especially if you’re an international player and expected to be a top player on the team.

I was fortunate enough to find another contract in the Danish league through a friend who was coaching in the league. I wanted to finish off the year and give myself another chance to perform instead of going home.


How did you guys find the transition from university to professional? Was it a natural progression or was there a learning curve involved with different training and nutrition etc. Do you still keep in touch with your university team mates and coaches? 

Keaton Strom blocking (No. 4 Jersey)

Keaton Strom blocking (No. 4 Jersey)

Keaton:  I personally think [the transition] would’ve been tough if it wasn’t for the Premier League this summer. Even with the training, I noticed a jump in the level of playing, there was definitely a learning curve. I’ve taken to the workouts and nutritional side of my career and it’s a lot easier to take care of my body for games and practices without having to worry about assignments and classes.

 There are some guys on my old college team that I keep in touch with, but just as their lives keep moving forward, so does mine, so I’m certainly not keeping up perfectly with them all.

Riley: The biggest difference is the amount of free time in your schedule. Once you’re playing overseas your only obligations are to practice and work out, at most that’s 5-6 hours on the busiest of days. For most athletes, a busy schedule is something we have gotten accustomed to for almost our entire lives. Learning how to be disciplined and productive with that free time is something I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with.

I don’t stay in touch with my university teammates and coaches. They are having a great season and I hope they continue on the path they are on but I mainly keep in touch with family and friends.


How do you foresee the rest of your season going? 

Riley Friesen attacking

Riley Friesen attacking

Keaton: It’s up in the air…but I’m optimistic. We absolutely have a shot [at playoffs], but it will take a lot of hard work in order to capitalize on it.  

Riley: Right now, Middelfart is in the middle of the Danish league and we just won 2 important games against teams that are close to us in standings. The current goal is to get as high as possible in the standings so we can set ourselves up for a favourable quarterfinal match-up. If we continue to grow as a team I believe that we have a shot at upsetting the top teams and making a push for the championships!


Habo Wolley is currently competing in the Quarter - Finals (5th-8th) against Lunds in the Elitserian League. Game 2 happens on March 21st at 2pm.

Middelfart is currently competing in the Semi - Finals against Gentofte in the Volleyligaen league. Game 1 happens on March 24th at 10am.

Athletes Abroad: Calgary to Finland

Calgary Premier League Athletes Miranda Dawe and Alex Donaghy have recently joined forces in Finland playing for LiigaPloki. Both women played in the inaugural season of the Calgary Premier League last year, Miranda with the CMS Crush and Alex with Trolley 5 HITT Venom. They are former teammates from Red Deer College and now they’re teammates again!


Miranda - how are you enjoying your first season overseas? What is the biggest surprise in playing professional volleyball compared to university? Did you have to make any adjustments in how you train, sleep or eat? 

Miranda Dawe

Miranda Dawe

My first season so far has been crazy; there have been so many new and exciting things I’ve come to experience and other tough/demanding experiences I’ve had to work through and learn from.

The biggest surprise coming from university ball is probably the age range of the girls playing professionally! In the Finnish league (as far as I know) there are players as young as 15, and players as old as 40+! That’s crazy to me! In university, the girls are typically within a 5-6 year age range and getting to play alongside and against much older and younger girls is really fun and you learn a lot just by being able to compete against them.

In regards to any adjustments, yes, I’ve had to make some changes to my diet and sleeping while being here. My team typically trains twice per day and almost every day so if I don’t eat enough or get good sleep I don’t have enough energy in practices and my mood isn’t the best. That being said, I’ve come to find that having a routine really helps with eating and sleeping properly and my energy levels are better now than a few months ago!


How would you compare competing in Calgary in the Premier League to competing in a league in Europe? Are there any differences in expectations? 

Miranda Dawe attacking

Miranda Dawe attacking

Miranda: Expectations in practices and games at the professional level are a bit higher which is understandable now that it is your job to perform. In the ONE Premier League, it was a good introduction for younger athletes to understand what higher competition expectations look like and to experience playing alongside athletes who are able to demonstrate that in training. I think that the Premier League was great for returning university players and for those of us who are overseas for introducing new teams and having us find ways to learn how to be successful with a new group of athletes.


What made you pursue volleyball professionally? 

Miranda: I wanted to pursue volleyball professionally mostly because I still have such a passion for the sport and I wasn’t ready to be done after college. I also wanted to travel after I graduated and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see the world and continue playing a high level.

Alex: Continuing to pursue volleyball has been important to me because I have a huge passion for the sport. At this point in my life (and for many years past) I’ve been more invested in volleyball than I have been in almost anything else. Beyond the passion and joy I still have for volleyball, I’m not ready to give up the game because in my senior year at MRU, I felt like I was finally playing well. In my three years at MRU, I had been growing steadily as a player and as an athlete and when I graduated, it felt crazy to give up on all that progress. It felt like the best was yet to come. Leaving my volleyball career would’ve felt like a sad abandonment of all the progress and all the potential that I think I still have.


Alex - Congrats on getting a contract mid-season! How are you feeling, what emotions are you feeling? Since this is a recent development, how has the transition been? Did you think you'd end up overseas playing professionally?

Alex Donaghy

Alex Donaghy

Thank you! I was thrilled to get a contract. Beyond my excitement, I was also very relieved not to have an entire season of volleyball pass me by. Playing professionally was a goal that I was unwilling to let go of, even once September hit and the critical time for signing with a team had passed. I'm grateful for the role that Miranda (friend and former teammate at Red Deer College) played in helping me secure my contract, she vouched for me, and I believe she even told the club that they could send us both home if I wasn't good enough to replace fill the opposite position on LiigaPloki. No pressure right 😉. I will admit that I was nervous, especially since I had a longer off-season than I had planned and wanted to prove that I was worthy to play for my new team. 

At first, the transition was a wild ride. I quit my job, signed my contract and flew out three days later. I think I played in three games in the first 8 or so days after I arrived in Finland. My first weeks here challenged me to return to and exceed the level of performance I was at in the final months of my university career. In addition to that challenge, I was also playing as a passing opposite. Although I played as a left side for my team in the ONE Premier League, my reception experience is almost exclusively practice reps with MRU and my season with ONE Volleyball.  Currently on my team, myself and another player are both optional passers, whichever player is passing best steps up. Sometimes that’s me and sometimes it’s not. It’s likely the added challenge could affect my performance but ultimately, right now, I’ve been focused on how addressing this challenge impact my team and our flow.


Alex - Miranda helped secure your spot on the team and told the coach they could send BOTH of you home if you didn’t meet expectations. How does that impact your mentality and mindset towards the game? Is it still as fun going to practices and training knowing there’s more pressure?

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Ultimately, I’m still in the honeymoon phase - I still LOVE the game. Now that I’m officially getting paid to do what I love, it feels like I can fully justify the commitment and effort that I’ve been putting in for all these years. I still love practice (after I’m warmed up, something about warming up is always a grind!). I am finding that I have more goals and have a renewed motivation toward my training now that my professional career is underway. Like I mentioned, I don’t feel like I’m the best player I can be yet and I am always after the joys and highs that come with the hunt for my best performance. Right now, the greatest amount of pressure I’m feeling is to find a contract again next season. I’ve got some long-term goals now and I’m doing my best to play well to ensure that future opportunities are available.

I don’t think I’d be motivated to continue pursuing a professional volleyball career if I didn’t love it enough to accept the pressure and other challenges that also come with the pro athlete package deal.

Canadian Armed Forces Women's National Volleyball Team to Compete in Series No. 3

As we prepare for the third and final Challenger in Toronto, we are excited to announce that the Canadian Armed Forces Women’s National Team will be joining us! Last year, we had the privilege of hosting the Men’s National Volleyball Team at Challenger No.4 and although they didn’t take home the cash prize, they brought a ton of energy to the court.

So, who are these ladies you ask? We dive into what drives these amazing women below.


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This Canadian Armed Forces team represents Canada at home and abroad, competing against other Armed Forces National teams.  Many of the Armed Forces teams are comprised of Olympic calibre athletes, whose job in their respective military is to be a full-time athlete. This is not the case for the Canadian athletes. They all have distinct occupations, and competing as an athlete is a privilege that is only afforded when it doesn’t affect Canadian Armed Forces operations. Additionally, training and competing together for the Canadian team is limited to several times a year, as the athletes are spread out all across the country. Limited in training opportunities, the Canadian team continually seeks out high level competition and experience and are excited to have options like the Challenger series available to them within Canada.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is a member nation of CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire), which is one of the largest multidisciplinary organizations in the world, comprised of 138 member countries, who organize sporting events for the Armed Forces. CISM annually organizes over 20 Military World Championships for approximately 30 different sports, for continental and regional competitions. The CISM motto is “Friendship through sport”, facilitating sporting activities that promote peace and solidarity. This year, CISM will be holding the Military World Games in Wuhan, China from October 17 to 27, 2019 where Canada will be well represented in several sports, including volleyball. This multisport event are second only in participant size to the summer Olympic Games.


The team competing at the upcoming Challenger event consists of players that are currently posted and living within Ontario and Quebec: 

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Lieutenant (Navy) Carolyn Pumphrey is from Gander, Newfoundland. She currently plays libero for the CAF CISM team and participated in the World Military Championships in Edmonton in 2018. She enrolled in the military in May 2007, is a Naval Warfare Officer and currently holds the position of Squadron Commander at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). 

Lieutenant (Navy) Kelsey Chang is from Richmond, British Columbia. She played libero for RMC from 2009-2013 and was libero for the CAF CISM team from 2010-2019. She participated in the World Military Games in South Korea (2015) and Brazil (2011) and the World Military Volleyball Championships in Edmonton (2018), USA (2017), Costa Rica (2013), and Netherlands (2012). She enrolled in the Naval Reserves in 2009, is a Personnel Selection Officer and is currently working as a Recruiting Officer for the Army Reserves in Kingston, ON. 

Lieutenant (Navy) Ali Beaver is from Nova Scotia. She played left side for Saint Mary's University in Halifax from 2007-2011 and Team Nova Scotia in summers 2008/2009 for the Canada Games. She enrolled in the military in April 2013 as a Naval Warfare Officer and after coming home from deployment last July was posted to Ottawa as the Attractions Officers at the Canadian Forces Center Northern and Eastern Ontario (CFRC NEON).

Lieutenant Marianne Pichette is from Longueil, Quebec and is currently a student in Physiotherapy. She played middle for the University of Ottawa (2011-2012), CEGEP de l'Outaouais (2008-2011) and for the CAF CISM team (2015-present) where she also participated in the World Military Championships in USA (2017). She enrolled in the military starting in the Primary Reserves in the 2008 and transferred to the Regular Force in August 2018.  

Officer Cadet Kara Stephan is from Barrie, Ontario and is a fourth year student at RMC.  She plays left side for RMC and the CAF CISM team where she has participated in the World Military Volleyball Championships in Edmonton (2018) and in USA (2017).  She enrolled in the military in May 2015 and upon graduation will be commissioned and will become a Communication Electronic Engineering Officer (CELE); she is hoping to go into cyber defence.

Sergeant Emma Porter is from Ottawa, Ontario. Sgt Porter currently plays as setter and has been part of the CAF CISM team from 2013-present. She has participated in the World Military Games in South Korea (2015), the World Military Championships in USA (2017) and Costa Rica (2013). She enrolled in the military in 2008 as a musician and is currently a Recruiter at the Canadian Forces Recruitment Center.

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Master Corporal Isabelle Moo Sang (Hendy) is from Quebec City, Quebec.  MCpl Moo Sang currently plays middle with the CAF CISM team (2014-2019) and attended the World Military Championships in Edmonton in 2018. She has been in the Primary Reserves for over 12 years as an infantry soldier with the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa and currently works full-time for the Federal Government - Transport Canada, since 2009, as a Policy Advisor. She also has two children named Fiona (3) and Winston (1). 

Leading Seaman Norah Collins is from Cedar Valley, ON.  She is an outside hitter and has played for RMC from 2009-2013, Team Canada Full Time Training Centre and CISM.  She has participated in the World Military Games in South Korea (2015) and Brazil (2011) and the World Military Championships in Edmonton (2018), USA (2017), and Costa Rica (2012).  She enrolled in 2009 and is currently an HMCS Cataraqui Recruiter.


To learn more about the CAF CISM Women's Volleyball Team, check out and follow their Facebook page.

Athletes Abroad: Playing for the German Bundesliga

Uchenna Ofoha and Patrick Strzalkowski pictured before their pre-season game.

Patrick Strzalkowski, of Madawaska Madmen, and Uchenna Ofoha, of Soul Machine, are both playing for the German 2. Bundesliga this season. Patrick has returned for his 2nd season with VC Gotha in 2. Bundesliga South and Uchenna is playing with CV Mitteldeutschland in 2. Bundesliga North.

These two Premier League athletes don’t play each other during the regular season, but it’s during friendly competition during their pre-season games when these two friends can play together again away from home.


Patrick - Can you talk about the differences between playing volleyball in Germany at a professional level compared to University in Canada or even the Premier League?

Patrick Strzalkowski

There’s quite a number of differences actually. To start, my team here [VC Gotha] is composed of athletes between the ages of 17-31 and some are in school, some work, some have families, and some, like myself, are solely professional players. It’s a change from the 18-23 years old’s you play with at the university level. In university, you bond quickly with your team and often spend many hours together – training, living, studying and partying. Here in Germany, my teammates are all in different life stages with different priorities which can make it difficult to create quick connections and relationships as well as socializing outside of practices. It can be a lonely experience.

There is a lot more down time, I am expected to be at practice 4 times a week and a game 1-2 times a week. Outside of that, my time is my own. Last season, this was tough when volleyball was not going well, I didn’t have something to fall back on as another means to feel productive or someone to fall back on for support. This year, I have been in a German Integration School for 3 hours a day since October. It’s giving me that feeling of being productive when volleyball fails to do so.

Playing overseas is also more stressful, it’s a job at this point. We are expected to perform to a certain standard and are responsible for potential relegation and promotion of the team between leagues, which brings with it the loss or gain of sponsors, money, fans etc. The Premier League was more relaxed and fun in comparison. Being able to play with and against old teammates and adversaries in front of a home crowd makes it really special.


Uchenna Ofoha

Uchenna - What’s been your highlight moment of your professional career now that you’re into your 2nd contract?

I’m lucky enough to have two stand out moments so far, not just one.

The first, our team CV Mitteldeutschland finished the first half of this season with an 11-0 record. We’re all pretty proud of that.

Second, is a personal highlight. I achieved 16 points in one game as a Middle Blocker (with 8 blocks).


Uchenna - You run a business, can you tell us a little about that? How do you manage that from overseas and working it around your training schedule?

Uchenna Ofoha talking with some young fans

I run a business called TutorPrince which is a tutoring company that specializes in tutoring Student Athletes at all levels of education (elementary to post-secondary).

I have a team of successful Student Athlete mentors/tutors who have been through it all and came out on top. They range from Master’s students, Academic All-Canadians and Student-Athletes who achieved 4.0 GPAs while being a top player in their sport.

We not only help with the academics side but also, with goal setting and time management skills. These are critical skills that are required for all successful student athletes!

I run it from Germany by trusting 2 of my main employees to run the administrative side of the business. Emily Nicholishen, a former Premier League athlete and Ryerson Rams volleyball alumni, is the Director of Operations. I handle the finances and some of the marketing along with the scheduling.

I started this business when I was at Ryerson because I noticed a number of student athletes who were struggling with their academics but were smart individuals. I looked into why these athletes weren’t achieving the grades they deserved. The main thing I learned, was that the key to success was the critical combination of studying with the right time management and having the right goal setting skills. And just like that, TutorPrince was born!


Why did you choose volleyball as your sport? Was there a person or a reason that you were influenced by?

Patrick Strzalkowski attacking

Patrick: I played a lot of basketball growing up. In high school I also ran, jumped and threw a bit in Track and Field. I saw this as cross-training for volleyball. A teacher at my high school, Steve Bonazza, was definitely the reason why I switched from basketball and stayed with volleyball. He coached me on 7 different teams in four years across high school, MAC Volleyball Club, Region 3 and Team Ontario. I stuck with volleyball because I loved the team aspect and culture, it’s very team-oriented. One player can help lead a team to victory, but not without every other player being integral in the team’s success.

Uchenna: Funny enough, it’s the sport I was the worst at. I played a lot of sports growing up, volleyball being one of them but for some reason, I was just never GOOD at it. Because of my competitive personality, I wanted to be good and improve my skills. So, I worked at it until I got to the point where I actually grew to love the sport. Going into university, I had to make a decision about what sport I wanted to play and I stuck with volleyball. It was only after my 1st year of playing with Ryerson University that I really made that leap from “not-so-great” to “good” and even then, I had to decide if I wanted to work to become better and play at the high level that my teammates were playing at. So, I went all in and really pushed myself to work hard and improve to play at the level that was needed.


How is the environment playing in Germany compared to anywhere else?

Uchenna Ofoha (right) double blocking with a teammate

Patrick: The environment, particularly at Gotha’s home games, are absolutely amazing. You may only have 200-300 fans but the passion here is much greater than anything I’ve seen in Canada. It’s energetic and the fans are always loud and involved. I feel truly lucky to have fans that I can talk to after every game and have been able to build some great relationships over the last season and a half.

Uchenna: Both countries were great to experience. The level of volleyball played is very similar as well as the environment. But the German fans are a lot more intense. They really appreciate the game which makes playing here very enjoyable.

The living experience is where it is completely different. In Finland, it was cold and dark a lot of the time. But, there was a lot less distractions, so I was able to focus on my playing. Germany has bigger cities and so in that way, it reminds me of Toronto. And the weather is a lot better!


What does the remainder of the season look like for you? Do you have any goals as an individual or as a team you want to achieve?

Patrick Strzalkowski with teammates

Patrick: My team is in a bit of a rough patch at the moment, we are battling to stay in the league. If we finish 11th or 12th in the league we will be relegated, not good. We are currently sitting in 11th [at the time of this interview, February 5th, 2019], 6 points (2 wins) behind 10th and with 8 games left it’ll be a fight to the end. We are looking to win as many games as we can, at least 4 wins will likely secure out team’s spot in this league for next year. [They have 7 games left and they are currently sitting in 11th place as of February 21st, 2019.]

My personal goal is to pass my German language test!

Uchenna: Our team won the 2. Bundesliga North last season, and we’re on track to do the same this season. If we win, we have the opportunity to move up to the 1. Bundesliga. Last year, the team chose to stay in the 2nd league just due to sponsorship opportunities that were available. So, there will be a discussion to see what the team wants later down the road. But I think that would be an awesome accomplishment.

Athletes Abroad: Calgary takeover

Jackson Maris and Keith West both played in the inaugural season of the Calgary Premier League in 2018. Jackson was the 1st pick for his team, the JVC Timberjacks and Keith was 1st pick for his team, the WM Greenbacks. These two talented athletes are currently on contracts in Europe – Jackson with Hammelburg in Germany and Keith with Chaumont in France.

We asked the players a couple of questions to get to know them a little better!


Jackson Maris (blocking)

Jackson Maris (blocking)

How did you get into volleyball? Did you play any other sports growing up?

Jackson: I got into volleyball from a young age. I was introduced to the sport by my father as he was a volleyball player and he got myself and my brothers into the sport. As for other sports, I played all the other sports most kids play – soccer, baseball and basketball.  

Keith: My dad also played volleyball and he got my two older brothers playing when they were young. Having watched them play, I got into the sport as well at a pretty young age and I was hooked from day 1. I played a few different sports, but volleyball was the only sport I played at a competitive level.


Keith West (hitting)

Keith West (hitting)

Did you want to pursue professional volleyball or was it something that just happened and you took the opportunity when it arose?

Jackson: I’ve wanted to play professionally since my club days! Playing a sport as a job was something I was always interested in and wanted to try.

Keith:  It was something that only came to mind around my 3rd year of University. Initially, I wasn’t sold on the idea of leaving Canada and being away from family and friends for such an extended period of time. After I finished my last year of USports eligibility, I felt that I wanted to continue playing. Despite the drawbacks [of leaving Canada], I decided I wanted to pursue a professional contract in Europe.


Jackson Maris

Jackson Maris

Jackson – This is your 4th contract, what has your life been like moving around Europe? You’ve moved from Canada to Sweden to Germany! Are there any significant highlights/challenges in the last 4 years?

 

Moving to a new country definitely has its challenges because you miss so much back home. Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthday celebrations you have to be included over FaceTime, but you find ways to make where you feel like home. My fiancé has been with me for most of my time in Europe which has made the biggest difference. Also, the teammates and friends I’ve made can make it such an enjoyable experience.


Keith West (far right) triple block

Keith West (far right) triple block

Keith – This is your 1st contract, how are you finding it so far? What have been some of the highlights/challenges in adjusting to life as a professional athlete right after university?

 

I ended up in a very fortunate situation and everyday I’m reminded of that. Chaumont is currently tied for 1st in our pool for Champions League, as well as in the final four for the French Cup. In the summer, I asked my agent to find me a team where I could experience the highest level of volleyball, and I’m lucky to be in that exact situation!


Jackson Maris blocking in the 2018 Calgary Premier League

Jackson Maris blocking in the 2018 Calgary Premier League

How does competing overseas compare with competing in the Calgary Premier League? Did the league help prepare you?  

Jackson: The biggest difference from the Calgary Premier League is the time commitment. Having to train at least once a day and on top of that you have team workouts - compared to one or two practices a week in the Premier League - is what makes it a full-time job.

Keith: The popularity of volleyball in Europe is a big change from playing Canada. With established leagues in almost every country, attending volleyball games is something that a lot of people do for entertainment. I think the Calgary Premier League was able to accomplish this last summer, maybe on a smaller sale, but it was amazing to be a part of. I want to see Volleyball become a part of the mainstream conversation when it comes to sporting events in Calgary.