Two CCAA All-Canadians are set to appear in the January 7th Challenger Series event. Humber Alumni Kelly Nyhof and Thalia Hanniman are stepping onto the court, but this time on opposite sides of the net. We dive into some of their highlights while playing for the most 'successful team in OCAA history' and some of the best advice they've received over the years, coincidentally from their collegiate coach, Chris Wilkins.
Club: Georgetown Impact
College: Humber College
Canadian Women's National team member
Club: Pembroke Knights
College: Humber College
Pro: In the works
First, what will it be like playing against each other for the first time?
Kelly: It'll be fun for sure. Weird, because were so used to playing together. But it will consist of a lot of joking around and making fun of the mistakes we both make. Both of us come from the same program and have the same mentality of wanting to win every point. Playing against each other will have its advantages because we know how the other plays. I'm sure she'll waste no time telling people what to look for from me and vice versa. At the end of the day, it'll be a ton of fun and there'll be some good laughs that come from it.
When you first started playing, what were your goals?
Kelly: I started playing volleyball at the beginning of Grade 11, which is really late to start playing a sport, especially with the hope of actually being good at it. So when I first started playing volleyball, my goals were simple.
The first was to not make a fool of myself because the girls that I was playing with were at a higher level than me and probably questioned why our coach didn’t cut me in the first place. The second was no matter what, stay off the net.
Thalia: I had aspirations of playing at the collegiate level. Being from a small town with not very many athletic opportunities it was harder to get exposure so playing at the next level was a huge deal for me.
What did you enjoy most about your last team experience?
Thalia: The thing I enjoyed the most was competing. I have always been very competitive and loved the level of competition the Humber program always brought to the table. Bonding and working with a group of girls that had the same mind set and goals as myself left me always wanting to play and practice.
Kelly: The last team I played with was the women’s national team. This experience came with a lot of challenges but one of the things that I enjoyed most was that we all wanted the same results and we were willing to put in the time and the effort to try and achieve those results. When I was younger, it was more recreational in the sense that not everyone on the team had the same intentions. Some wanted to just play and have fun and didn’t care about results and others just did it because their parents told them to. I’m a pretty competitive person so it was fun to be a part of a team that worked as hard, if not harder, than I did.
Did you accomplish all you wanted to on your last team?
Kelly: I think with every team sport, one of the main personal goals every athlete has is actually playing and being a starter or in my case, cracking the National Team travel roster. For me, this was a big adjustment and not something I ever fully obtained.
When I played at Humber, I was put into the starting line-up basically as soon as I got there. My coach was in need of a middle and unfortunately for him I was one of his only options in that position! (haha) I laugh because when I first joined Humber, I was definitely the worst one there. So I was totally shocked when I was thrown into such a big role. However, that’s one of the reasons why I got to where I did because I didn’t really have time to think about the pressure of being a starter. This made playing for the National Team a difficult transition for me because I was used to starting, and then my role changed. I worked hard to gain a spot on the travel roster for the national team but at that level everyone you play with was a starter for their own respective teams and everyone was good. Unfortunately I was only able to crack the travelling roster once when I attended the FISU games.
Thalia: In my last year we were able to take away a CCAA Bronze medal which was huge for the program as we have been striving for a CCAA medal for years. Although our program's goal is to win a CCAA gold medal, making this accomplishment (bronze) really allowed me to finish my career at Humber with very little short comings.
I think looking back what prevented us from winning a National gold medal is lack of exposure out of province (OCAA), and being able to to handle being pushed into the corner and coming back from it.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Thalia: "Never settle" - from my coach Chris Wilkins. Those two simple words really translated to everything in my life whether it be in sport or in my career. No matter how much you accomplish there is always more you can do to better yourself and to always keep striving for more.
Kelly: “Don’t think. Just play.” One of the very first things my coach at Humber, Mr. Chris Wilkins said to me was that I sucked at volleyball when I was thinking about playing. And he was right. And that’s still true to this day. I play my best when I’m relaxed and enjoying myself and just playing. It sounds so simple but back when I played for Humber this was something that I needed constant reminders for. I can’t tell you how many times Wilkins called me over and tapped my forehead and said, “Kel – stop thinking. I can see the wheels turning in your head. Stop. Just play!” And it was like he flipped a switch on and I’d be great after that.
What advice can you give girls currently in their CIS/CCAA years, to help them stay focused on their goals?
Thalia: Live in the moment and don't take any game, practice, training session for granted. There are so many things we learn as athletes that translate to the working world, so take in as much as you can from your coaches and teammates. They'll be the best teachers you'll ever have!
Kelly: Keep an open mind about your goals and have multiple goals that are attainable. I think one of the biggest mistakes an athlete can make is creating a goal that’s complex and could end up being unrealistic. The volleyball season is long and strenuous and can be extremely overwhelming at times with everything else going on besides being an athlete. If athletes have one big goal for the year that they want to achieve and they haven’t been successful, it can have a negative effect on their whole game and will set them back that much further from achieving their goal and feeling successful. For me I had goals that I would try and achieve in each practice or for each week. I felt like keeping my goals simple and on a smaller scale allowed me to feel more successful when I achieved them and gave me the confidence I needed for each game.