athlete

Emily Betteridge signs first professional contract in Denmark

The list of Canadian athletes competing abroad keeps growing with Emily Betteridge signing her first professional contract with Brøndby Volleyball Klub in Denmark!

Betteridge played her final three years of varsity for the Ryerson Rams

A former Team Ontario athlete, Emily started her ascent to pro ball at Syracuse University and finished her varsity run at Ryerson University where she was a 2nd-team OUA All-Star in her final year. She joined the ONE Volleyball Premier League in 2017, competing for Unity Volleyball, to take advantage of the extra training time over the summer while she looked to fulfill her goal of playing volleyball overseas professionally.

Finding a contract is not a simple process. While most athletes start their seasons early September, Betteridge was still looking for the right contract by this time, "I think I learned some valuable lessons in the time it took to get here. It's reminded me that you can't control the timing of your life, but you can control your attitude and your work ethic," she says. 

Betteridge competed in ONE Volleyball Challenger Series events

After competing with other pro athletes during the summer she knew that was the level she wanted, and could be playing at, she just needed to be patient. 

Fellow Premier League athlete and Premier Cup Champion Asli Ersozoglu landed her first contract earlier in the summer with Brøndby Volleyball Klub, and when her team started looking for a new setter she immediately recommended Betteridge. An opportunity came up to travel to Denmark to train with the team and see if it was the right fit, and Betteridge jumped on the chance to start her dream.

"I'd been working toward the goal of playing overseas for a while, so having the opportunity to go to Copenhagen was more than exciting. I went to Denmark on a trial and got to experience the volleyball and the life for a week before signing. While that certainly came with some pressures, it allowed me to completely embrace the experience, take every day as it came, and both challenge myself and prove to myself, that I deserved to be here," she says. 

Betteridge competing for Unity Volleyball in the 2017 Premier League

Betteridge joins Brøndby mid-season with a record of 18-3, and they sit in 1st place in the VolleyLigaen Damer League. 

Follow Asli and Emily on their pro journey in Denmark on our Athletes Abroad page!

Premier League Athletes Kick Off Their Professional Seasons

It's back to school already, and while many of us our preparing for Club Tryouts and getting back into the work routine, others have made the trek overseas to train for the beginning of the Professional Season in Europe!

We were so thrilled to have an amazing group of talented athletes compete in the inaugural season of the Premier League, and join us in supporting the growth of post-secondary volleyball in Canada. It was amazing to see the impact this season had for our Canadian Professionals, who joined us between seasons in Europe, and for the next generations of outstanding talent. Not only were many young athletes inspired by competing amongst some of our top Canadians, the League also provided a perfect training platform and mentoring opportunity for those already competing in Europe.

Erik Mattson wowed the crowd week after week with his amazing defensive abilities. Click to view this crazy rally from the Premier League on instagram.

Erik Mattson wowed the crowd week after week with his amazing defensive abilities. Click to view this crazy rally from the Premier League on instagram.

"The Premier League was great to train and compete during the off season at a relatively low volume. Being able to get reps twice a week allowed me to stay in game form and not let too much rust set in before heading back overseas. I'm excited to see how the league grows in the following years and contributes to the growth of volleyball in not only Toronto but the rest of the country as well." - Erik Mattson

Along with the 8 Premier League athletes heading back overseas for another season, we are excited to follow 6 new athletes who are preparing for their first seasons competing in Europe. We can only hope that the Premier League continues to inspire athletes to follow their dreams and continue competing in this sport that we love!

Alsi Ersozoglu

Alsi Ersozoglu

"Meeting and playing with a whole new group of athletes, who had been playing overseas in the previous years, inspired me to look for a contract. It has always been my dream but never really my plan, and participating in this league both helped me find the joy in the game again, after a long (and disappointing) varsity season, and connected me to people who could guide me on how to find a team overseas." - Asli Ersozoglu

We can't wait to follow the journey of these 14 athletes this season. Check out their bio below, and follow us on facebook to stay up-to-date on our Canadians! 

Uchenna Ofaha (middle) plays his first season overseas, and Jori Mantha (hitting) is playing his second.

Uchenna Ofaha (middle) plays his first season overseas, and Jori Mantha (hitting) is playing his second.


Returning Overseas

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Name: Steve Hunt
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: Saint Nazaire, France
Experience: 6th Professional Season, University of Hawaii
Premier League Highlights: Male MVP, top 3 on the leaderboard in Points, Serve, Dig and Receive
Follow: @stuntinaroundtheworld

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Name: Erik Mattson
Position: Libero
2017/2018 Club: Abiant Lycurgus, Netherlands
Premier League Highlights: Best Male Libero
Experience: 5th Professional Season, University of Alberta
Follow: @erik_mattson5

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Name: Taylor Brisebois
Position: Middle
2017/2018 Club: Volleyball Club Offenburg, Germany
Experience: Second Professional Season, McMaster University
Follow: @taybrisebois

Name: Jori Mantha
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: OK Hoče, Slovenia
Experience: 2nd Professional Season, McMaster University
Follow: @jorimantha

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Name: Ray Szeto
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: SVG Lüneburg Germany
Experience: 2nd Professional Season, York University
Follow@ray871

Name: Julie Mota
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: Degerfors Orion, Sweden
Experience: 9th Professional Season, Georgian College & Humber College
Follow: @juliemota12

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Name: Taylor Hunt
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: Pafiakos, Cyprus
Experience: 5th Professional Season, University of Alberta
Follow: @tayhunt5

Name: Andre Brown
Position: Middle
2017/2018 Club: Rovaniemi, Finland
Experience: 3rd Professional Season, Humber College
Follow: @andre_brown_18


First Professional Seasons

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Name: Alex Duncan-Thibealt
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: Sora, Italy
Experience: First Professional Season, York University
Follow: @alexduncanvball

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Name: Aleksa Miladinovic
Position: Setter
2017/2018 Club: Sodertelge, Sweden
Experience: First Professional Season, Ryerson University & University of Toronto
Premier League Highlights: Best Male Setter
Follow: @aleksa_miladinovic9
 

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Name: Patrick Strzalkowski
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: VC Gotha, Germany
Experience: 1st Professional Season, University of Guelph
Follow: @patty_straz

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Name: Asli Ersozoglu
Position: Libero
2017/2018 Club: Brondby, denmark
Experience: 1st Professional Season, University of Toronto
Follow: @aslersoz

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Name: Stefan Ristic
Position: Outside Hitter
2017/2018 Club: Chemie Volley Mittledeutschland, Germany
Experience: 1st Professional Season, Ryerson University
Follow: @stefrista

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Name: Uchenna Ofoha
Position: Middle
2017/2018 Club: Kokkolan Tiikerit, Finland
Experience: 1st Professional Season, Ryerson University
Follow: @_uch


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. 

Erik Mattson: The Highs and Lows of Professional Volleyball

One of the biggest misconceptions about playing Professional Volleyball is that athletes are on some kind of extended vacation following their post-secondary careers. Canadians are not exposed to volleyball as a professional sport, so it is hard to understand the life of our athletes abroad. Playing overseas is an amazing opportunity to make money competing and meet new people all over the world, but it is also stressful, uncertain and at times overwhelming. Erik Mattson has experienced this roller coaster ride of highs and lows, certainly in this last season competing in Slovakia.

Erik Mattson is a USport National Champion and USport Libero of the Year, as well as one of the few Canadian liberos currently competing overseas, a position which is proven to be difficult to earn as a professional player. After competing for three seasons in the German Bundesliga, he accepted a contract in Slovakia, where he is currently competing in his fourth season abroad. This season has been one of the toughest both mentally and physically for Erik, as he has encountered a whole set of new challenges as a professional athlete.

Club: Toronto Volleyball Club
University: University of Alberta 2008-2013
Professional: Evivo Düren 2013-2014, SVG Lüneburg 2014-2015, 2015-2016, VK Prievidza 2016-2017


After spending close to 90 days in Slovakia competing, Erik was informed that he didn't have the proper visa paperwork to stay in the EU. "I had to leave the EU. I spent 3 weeks in Croatia and when I finally came back to Slovakia, I was told that I needed to leave again." Erik was flown back to Toronto for over a month while he waited for a solution to his visa issues. Terminating the contract and staying in Toronto would mean losing his job and not competing the remainder of the season. "I was mentally and emotionally drained. I came to Slovakia to play volleyball and I wasn't able to because of paper work." 

Finally at the beginning of January, Erik was able to return to Slovakia and compete with his team again. He couldn't have been happier to get back on the court, but unfortunately that wasn't the only challenge he faced over the past season. Recently, Erik had to miss a full week of training due to back issues which went from manageable to worse. Injuries are an added stress as a professional athlete, not only is it frustrating as an athlete because you want to be on the court, but now you have the added pressure from your club.

Despite these setbacks, Erik and his team have finished the season in a great position for playoffs. In the last week of regular season, they handed VK Bystrina SPU Nitra, the first place team in the league, their second loss of the season in a 3-2 battle. Finishing third overall in the Slovakia league, VK Prievidza is looking forward to making a strong playoff push. Saturday, the team will look to sweep their quarter-finals series and move onto the semis where they will face Presov, the second place team. The match up in the semis will be an exciting one, with Prievidza recently sweeping Presov 3-0 in league play. You can check out the Quarter-Final action, Saturday March 18th, on www.tvcom.cz

Erik hopes to continue playing for the next 2-3 years before starting the next chapter of his life. "My favourite part of playing volleyball in Europe is being able to do what I love most every single day. Volleyball has allowed me to meet so many amazing people and experience so many amazing things."

Jaimie Thibeault - Taking to the court one last time

Club: RDC Queens Club, AB, Canada
Post-Secondary: University of Montana
Professional: 2012-2013: Le Cannet, France, 2013-2014: Robur Tiboni Urbino, Italy, 2014-2015: SK Bank Legionovia Legionowa, Poland, 2015-2016: Unendo Yamamay Busto Arsizio, Italy Current: Jakarta BNI Taplus
National Team Member from 2009-2016

Career Highlights: Pan Am Cup 2013 Best Blocker, 2011 University of Montana Female Athlete of the Year and record holder for most career blocks.

All elite athletes will find themselves at a crossroads when nearing the end of their careers. Some, are forced into retirement, whether by career ending injuries or age, and others face a choice. Sometimes this choice can be the toughest part. When you dedicate your whole life to something, it rarely will feel right or normal to stop, especially when you still have the ability to compete.

After competing in some of the most prestigious leagues in Europe, and pouring her heart and soul into a four year Olympic push for Rio 2016, Jaimie Thibeault decided to take a step back from the game. In a sport like volleyball, where goals are Olympic focused, athletes live their lives in “quads”. Everything you work for is based on that ultimate goal at the end of every four years, the Olympics. Sometimes, as was the case for our women’s National team last January, Olympic dreams can all come down to one match. A devastating loss to Puerto Rico, a team the Canadians have beaten in the past, ended those Olympic dreams for the women’s team in 2016.

“I had never felt that kind of heartbreak before. And it was that moment and the months to follow that I realized I had lost the passion and love for the game. I was still grieving.”

Jaimie headed back to Italy to finish out the rest of her season, but things weren’t the same. It was then she made the decision to take the summer off, and ultimately to retire alongside her fiancé, Dallas Soonias, when he was forced into retirement by injury before the men’s team headed to Rio. She started a new life in the “real world”, moving into an apartment in Calgary and taking a teaching job. Jaimie was helping out with Mount Royal University volleyball program, but she still felt unsettled.

“Everything was happening so quickly, and each time I thought back to volleyball, I had a sour taste in my mouth. A stone that I had left unturned. I felt like I didn't leave the game how I had hoped.”

An opportunity came knocking in December, and Jaimie jumped at the chance to get back on the court.  She wanted to take this chance to celebrate the last of her career before retirement. Much different than the European experience, she decided to lace up her shoes for one last season in Indonesia. “In Asia, basically all the pressure is on the foreigners. When I arrived with the other foreigners on my team, the coach introduced us as their stars. You are treated like a celebrity.” In a warm country, with a competitive team and a short season, what an amazing opportunity for one last hurrah before hanging it up for good.

Jaimie didn’t always know that Professional Volleyball and National Team opportunities were in her future. In fact, they always felt like far away dreams to her. With a lot going on at home during her Grade 6 year, she was guided by her Vice Principal away from the negative path she was headed, and was shown a different path through athletics. Putting everything into sports, Jaimie excelled in the gym and volleyball was a perfect outlet to keep her out of trouble. She took advantage of an opportunity to move to Red Deer in Grade 8, where she excelled on the volleyball court and was eventually pursued for Scholarships from both Canadian and American Universities. Her own personal experiences led her to want to give back to other kids through sport.

Jaimie and Dallas are Neechie Gear role models who empower youth through sports!

Inspired by Dallas, who has been going around for many years to different First Nations as a Motivational Speaker, Jaimie decided to get involved and try to help make a difference. They are both Neechie Gear role models, a company created by Kendal Netmaker, a close family friend of Dallas. The mission of this company is to empower youth through sports, with 5% of all net profits going towards helping kids get involved in sport. This program has brought them to different First Nations throughout some of the most remote areas of Canada, where they speak with kids about bettering their lives and the possibilities in front of them. They usually finish with running clinics to teach fundamental volleyball skills. It can be a very challenging experience, as some places are not fortunate enough to have the benefits of gym space, courts, nets or even balls, but Jaimie and Dallas always leave wanting to help even more.

“Honestly, it’s extremely empowering. For me, it’s an overwhelming yet joyous experience. Dallas and I go in whole heartily each time hoping to affect some of these kids in a positive way, to help them desire and want to better their lives. We try to show them the path, show that there are opportunities, and that they can do it.”

Dallas is both Cree and Ojibway, his mother is from Cape Croker First Nation, where he is registered, and his father is from Red Pheasant First Nations in Saskatchewan. Jaimie, is Coast Salish and she is registered at T’souke First Nations, on Vancouver Island.  

 

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!