Featured Competitor

Featured Challenger Series Competitor: Myriam Hallé

For Myriam Hallé, her journey with volleyball happened a bit differently than most, but her passion and love for the sport is just as great as any. 

Club: Les Vipères des Laurentides
College: Les Nordiques, Lionel-Groulx
University: University of Montréal

Hallé's volleyball resume is filled with accolades from both indoor and beach volleyball, including 2 RSEQ titles with the University of Montréal and both a silver and gold medalist at the 2011 and 2014 Beach National Championships, respectively.

Hallé played volleyball all through high school and club like most, and she also played College for Lionel-Groulx before being recruited to the University of Montréal. "The coach saw me play libero during my last collegial year and asked me to attend the training camp because he liked my energy on the court," she says. 

Hallé eagerly accepted a position on the squad but after only a few weeks of training with the team, both setters got injured. "I was asked to learn to set and I never played as a setter in my years of volleyball before University," she says. "On my first practice I was asked to jump set and do fast plays. I'd say I had to learn quickly!"

Hallé continued to set for the team for 3 years before stepping back from volleyball to pursue her career in Pharmaceuticals. Not able to ignore her love for the game for very long, she joined the Celtiques Senior Team to keep playing at a high level, and started coaching with Olivier Trudel at the University of Montréal. "I felt that 3 years as a player were not enough for me and I still had a lot the give to the team," she says. 

With the Celtiques she trains once a week, and at first it was a bit of a shock adjusting to the post-competitive volleyball life she once had. "The environment is very different. We're self-coached and play on Tuesdays after a day of working. It's a good way to continue to play my sport at a good level and having a good time with my friends," she states. "We love doing tournaments organized by ONE Volleyball to bring us competition as there is not a lot of tournament we can do around Montreal."

Aside from her time with the Celtiques and her life as a Pharmacist, which she loves, Hallé is taking Pharmacy Management classes to buy her own Pharmacy one day. And since coffee is one of her favourite things, it's likely that you can find her sitting in a remote coffee shop in Montréal-Nord, sipping a hot cup of Joe and studying for her future career goals.

Hallé claims its her work ethic that gives her the drive to pursue new avenues of her career, but that comes from all her years spent on the court. "Everything I learn in sport is helping me a lot in my career right now," she says. "Whoever is on the other side of the net won't intimidate me and that relates in my life too."

You can catch Myriam Hallé and the Celtiques January 6-7, 2018 at the 1st Challenger Series Invitational

Featured Challenger Series Competitor: Reed May

Reed May makes his debut at Challenger Series Event

Name: Reed May
Club: CRUSH Volleyball Club 13U - 18U
University: University of Alberta Golden Bears 2012-2017

Reed May - libero - Alberta Golden Bears

Reed May - libero - Alberta Golden Bears

A former University of Alberta standout libero, Reed May is eager to tie up his laces again with Eastern Blocks for the 1st Annual Challenger Invitational this coming weekend at the Markham Pan Am Centre.

May comes from a family with a rich volleyball history. His father, John May, was a former volleyball standout at the University of Toronto and has been involved with beach volleyball at both the FIVB and Olympic Games. His brother, Garrett May, played for Western University and competes for Canada on the FIVB beach tour. In fact, it's not often that siblings get to face off against each other but Reed and Garrett have, during the 2014 CIS National Championships final, with Reed coming out on top.

I think it's safe to say that when May stepped foot on the court for the first time, he was going to become a great player. His father established CRUSH Volleyball Club and May was a dominant player for them from 13U to 18U, winning 7 National Championships. From there, May moved to Edmonton to play for the University of Alberta on one of the best teams in the country. He finished his University career in March 2017 with 4 National Championship medals, including back to back gold medals.

Reed May - libero - Alberta Golden Bears

Reed May - libero - Alberta Golden Bears

It's always tough going from training every day to what can seem like a perpetual silence following your University career. Returning home to Toronto for the summer, May joined forces with his father as one of the owners of a men's team in the Toronto Premier League. "My first reaction when my father told me he was buying a team in the ONE Volleyball Premier league was pure excitement!" May says, "I had heard about the draft through former teammates and noticed one of the teams didn't have an owner yet. I was just about to call my dad and suggest he get involved when he walked into the office and told me he had bought the team!"

"When I was presented with the opportunity to get involved at an ownership level I was very excited because I love being around high level volleyball on a regular basis even if I’m not able to get out and play every day," May says.

Knowing he has big shoes to fill, he seemed both eager and honoured to start this adventure with his father, "Being in volleyball environments with him, I see how big of an impact he’s had on the community by the sheer number of people he stops and chats with at the events. I can see the respect people have for him in the community and how much value his perspective has. I would consider myself very lucky if I had even a fraction of the impact on the community that he has over his many years in the sport."

With a bit of time yet to plan for the upcoming 2018 Toronto Premier League season, May hopes to help his team win their first Challenger Series Title, "I’m always looking for opportunities to get back out on the court and compete. It’s in my DNA."

University of Alberta Golden Bears at the 2014 CIS Men's National Volleyball Championships

University of Alberta Golden Bears at the 2014 CIS Men's National Volleyball Championships

American couple join forces with Canucks for first Challenger Event

Stephanie Champine is no stranger to the Challenger Series, her American team PVL team 'Lakeshore Surge' competed in the 2nd Challenger Event last year, finishing second to Galaxy Prime. Now she's back, joining the new Unity Reign team for the first Challenger Event of the season. Fellow American [and boyfriend] Shaun Dryden has joined her this time, teaming up with the 'Goon Squad'. This dynamic duo is a power couple in the American volleyball world, and we love that they've decided to head north to spike our competition.

Stephanie Champine
College: Junior College at Owens
College: D1 Austin Peay in Tennessee
PVL Team: Lakeshore Surge
Loves: dogs - "I have puppy fever!"

Shaun Dryden
College: LA Pierce
University: Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne
PVL Team: Team Pineapple

Stephanie Champine was looking for a right side in a tournament down south when someone recommended Stephanie Neville. "I absolutely loved her playing style and personality so I started picking her up for more tournaments. Then she started inviting me out to tournaments her way," Champine says. "I love meeting and playing with or against new people so I'm always excited to get picked up for new tournaments. Being able to drive just 6 hours to play in a different country is pretty awesome."

Champine was recently inducted as a part of her team into her high school Hall of Fame, where her jersey is retired. But coming out of high school, she wasn't sure she wanted to play anymore. "My high school coach didn't believe in me at all," she says. "She told me I wasn't going to play in college."

She decided not to pursue college until she was suddenly approached with a full ride from Owens. "[It was the] best decision of my life - my love and passion for the sport just took off. I wanted to play every day, as much as I could and I started getting better and better."

Champine went on to be an All-American for 2 years at Owens, and an All-American another 2 years at Austin Peay - a Division 1 college in Tennessee - and is a testament to how successful you can be in volleyball at any age. "I was a late bloomer. I was super lucky to have awesome college coaches who knew how to push me in the way I needed to be pushed. I wouldn't have gotten anywhere in volleyball without them," she says. "I also wouldn't have met my better half!"

Shaun Dryden decided to give volleyball a try in grade 9, and ended up dropping every other sport the next year to focus on volleyball. "I kept improving and my love for the game grew at the same time. I have not looked back since," he says.

After his time at LA Pierce College and IPFW (Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne), he joined one of the top PVL teams, Team Pineapple, started by former National Team setter and Olympian Lloy Ball. "We have been competing in the top tournaments in the USAV Open Championships, and won the 2015 and 2016 Championships back to back."

In 2017, Team Pineapple lost to the California Blizzard's who picked up Premier League athlete Ray Szeto. "I hate to lose period," Dryden says, "Any loss that I have sticks with me, and I try to learn from it so the mistakes don't happen again."

Stephanie and Shaun were introduced at the Doble (PVL touranment in Michigan that Canadian's frequent every year), in 2015 but had more time to get to know each other at the USAV National Championships later that year. "He continued to keep in touch with me even though he was living two hours away," Champine says. "We made plans to hang out a few weeks later and the rest is history!"

You can catch this All-American couple at the first Challenger Series event presented by Neighburr - Saturday, October 21st, 2017 at the Scarborough Pan Am Centre.

About: the PVL is the American Premier Volleyball League - a collection of tournaments you can play to quality for the USA National Volleyball Championships that boasts a $40,000 purse - $10,000 1st, $6,500 2nd and $3,500 3rd for both men and women. The League unfortunately folded last year, but the teams remain in competition in various tournaments in order to compete at the National Championships in May.

Malin Lindgren - From Sweden to Canada

Club: Svedala Volleyball Club
Professional: Orebro Volley, Sweden
Junior and Senior National Team in Sweden

Malin Lindgren playing professional volleyball for Orebro Volley

Malin Lindgren started playing volleyball at the age of 6 for Svedala Volleyball Club, which was founded by her mother. Growing up in Europe, she saw a completely different sport environment that we have in Canada. "Sports look a little different as it is typically not offered in school, but done through a club system." Lindgren says. "I guess [that is] the biggest difference between Volleyball in Europe vs. Canada."

There is ample opportunity for anyone in any part of Swedish society to play a sport and it is heavily supported making it free, or for a very small fee - so everyone can play. "Youth Sports in Sweden is generally subsidized in some ways by the government, typically making it affordable for everyone to play for a club," she says.

She quickly fell in love with volleyball for both the team aspect and the strong mental game one requires to be successful, and she was really good. "I started with the Junior National Team at the age of 13 and from there I was one of ten players accepted to our National Sports Academy High School," she says. All dreams come with sacrifice, and for Malin it meant leaving home at the age of 15 to pursue Volleyball.

The Junior National Team exposed her to an array of high quality players on an International scale.  "We played in the Swedish Pro League from September to April/May, in addition to travelling Europe for the Nordic Championships, European and World Cup Qualifiers and 8 National Tournaments," she says. At only the age of 17, she played her first game with the Senior National Team and played until she was 24, when she suffered an injury that ended her career. "I slipped while sprinting up to the net and sustained a fracture and cartilage injury in my foot. I didn't think it was too bad at first and played on it for two months before I realized that it wouldn't go away on it's own and I needed surgery."

Needing a change in pace, she looked outside of Sweden for new challenges and opportunities, and landed on Toronto. Though she has played in other local leagues since her arrival in the 6ix, this will be her first tournament with ONE Volleyball and she states this type of program is missing from Canadian Volleyball. "I think it's sad that for most players there is no where to go after high school or University unless you are lucky enough to get a Professional contract in another country. In Europe there are several Professional or Semi-Professional Leagues at different levels, which means you can continue your volleyball career at a fairly high, fairly competitive level for really as long as you want or are able to."

She notes another difference between the sport culture in Sweden and Canada; volunteers. "Volleyball in schools here may offer the sport to those who cannot afford to play club but is often run by volunteer coaches that might be learning as they go. I often wonder what the options are for those player that don't make the school team and cannot for whatever reason access the various clubs around the city." Financial support is the other major difference between Canada and the European sport system, "My club team, Orebro Volley, won 10 consecutive Swedish Championships, the Nordic Club Championships, the Grand Prix and participated in the Euro League." She said they received 400 000 SEK (approximately $60,000) in financial support from the city. 

The crazy thing is this seems like pennies to Lindgren, and she notes that lack of funding is one of the reasons Sweden isn't more successful on the International Stage. "The local Mens Soccer Team received approximately 14.7 million SEK (approximately $2,210,830)," she says. So it sounds like volleyball has a ways to go there, which is something it does have in common with Canada. 

Featured Challenger Series Competitor: Aleksa Miladinovic

Aleksa Miladinovic has always dreamed of playing professional volleyball overseas, and after graduation this year, he hopes that dream will become a reality.

A two time Academic All-Canadian, and twice named to the Dean's List, Aleksa exceled in both athletics and academics. After a successful three years at Ryerson, he received early acceptance into the Doctor of Pharmacy program, and made the transfer to the University of Toronto. Completing his final two years of eligibility for the Blues, Aleksa was ranked second in the OUA in total assists and named an OUA Second Team All-Star for the 2015-2016 season. Putting his athletic dreams on hold until graduation in May 2017, Aleksa has continued to train in hopes of landing his first professional contract for the 2017-2018 season.

"Ever since I started playing volleyball in 14U, I have been watching clips and games of professional volleyball matches. It's something I've been working towards for a long time."

An ambitious young setter, Aleksa was inspired by Nikola Grbic, an Olympic Champion and one of the best playmakers in the world. He's followed Grbic's career from the moment he started playing volleyball and would love to follow in the footsteps of his volleyball idol. His ultimate dream would be to play in Italy because of it's rich volleyball culture. But Aleksa knows his first major challenge is going to be getting his foot in the door in Europe.

 "[There are] not a lot of opportunities to play volleyball [post-secondary in Canada] which is one of the reasons why I like playing the ONE Volleyball tournaments so much. I want to stay in this sport in one way or another, for as long as I can."

A silver medalist at the Challenger Series No 1, we are excited to have Aleksa on the court again February 18th for the Challenger Series No 2 presented by Phoenix Volleyball Club for a second chance at the title and $1000 cash prize!

Featured Challenger Series Competitor: Matty Zbyszewski

Rosters have been released and WOW are we excited to kick off Challenger Event #1. The talent competing on the courts this Saturday is pretty special, and for our last Feature Friday, we wanted to highlight an amazing player who will be back in action on the volleyball courts. Matty Zbyszewski completed his University career at IPFW, where he was recognized as a 1st Team All-American and MIVA Player of the Year. He went on to compete professionally for 3 years, before officially moving to the beach and joining the Canadian Beach National Team. A 2-time Men's Beach National Champion and amazing athlete both on the court and in the sand, we are thrilled to have Matty competing in our 1st Challenger Series tournament. Learn more about Matty's career below, and don't miss his return to the courts this Saturday at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

Photo by Wayne Mah - taken at the 2010 Vancouver Open with Josh Binstock

Club: Toronto West
University: IPFW 2000-2005
Professional: Greece, Cyrpus, Spain 2005-2008
National Team: Indoor – 2004, Beach 2006-2012/13

When you look back on your career, what is your most cherished memory of competing?

First match back after my 2nd ACL reconstruction. It was nerve wrecking, scary and exhilarating all at the same time.

Did your indoor and beach volleyball careers overlap, and what inspired you to make the switch to beach?

Yes they did. I always used beach as a summer cross training activity however never took it seriously. 2007 was the first year I was able to compete at beach nationals and lost a tight final to Mark Heese and Ahren Cadieux. That inspired me to consider beach volleyball in my future. The following year, while playing in Spain, I received a call asking if I would like to join the beach national team. Considering my health, I decided it was a good time to hang up the sneakers and give beach a shot.

What is the biggest difference competing internationally for indoor vs beach? Do you have a preference?

First and foremost, biggest difference is expectation. Indoors, I was paid to perform. Not only do you have to put up points, but the biggest expectation is that the team wins. When you win, everyone is happy, when you lose payments start getting delayed. When your performance suffers you get fired. It’s really mentally exhausting. On the beach, the expectations are yours and yours alone. My preference was always for indoor volleyball. The only reason I stopped playing was from the toll it took on my body. After 5 surgeries, my knees said enough is enough. That said, it was always hard for me to replicate the passion, emotions, swagger I had playing indoors, on the beach.

What was the last tournament or competition you competed in?

Probably some beach tournament. As for indoor, I’ve played a few indoor games over the years but the last true competition was my last pro match in Spain in 2008.

What inspired you to play in ONE Volleyball’s first Challenger Series Tournament?

I came out to play in a mens league night a month ago or so and really got the itch back. Though physically I'm not where I want to be, the fire hasn’t died down one bit.

For athletes who are close to retirement, what is the best advice you would give them for making the transition from life as a professional athlete?

This is probably the hardest thing to figure out. Everyone’s journey is different and everyone needs to discover their own path. The fire does go out in some, making the transition easier, in other it burns on. It has taken me years to transition, yet my mind still feels like I can do it. My biggest outlets have been my family and coaching.

Is there anything else about your career or your involvement in volleyball now that you would like to share?

Volleyball has been such a huge part of my life. I’ve met most of my best friends through volleyball. I met my life partner and have 2 amazing little girls, through volleyball. I had some amazing mentors through out my career who helped to shape me into a great player and hopefully a better person, and I hope I can reciprocate that as a coach to the younger generations of volleyball players in Canada.