inspire

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


Behind the Scenes with Kyla Richey

We had the pleasure of catching up with Kyla Richey, a current member of our Canadian Women's National team, about the ups and downs of pursuing her volleyball career.

Kyla is a 5 time CIS National Champion, 2 time CIS Championship MVP,  CIS Player of the Year, UBC Female Athlete of the Year and the list goes on. What those accolades don't depict is the incredible story behind this inspiring athlete, who has faced numerous challenges yet continues to strive towards her goals. She is an inspiration and role model to teammates, coaches and the volleyball community. Currently competing for Panathinaikos in Greece, Kyla shares her story of what it took her to get here and what her futures dreams are.

You can follow Kyla's journey at www.kylarichey.com.

Post-Secondary: University of British Columbia
Canadian Senior National Team Member (2009-2016)
Professional: SC Potsdam (Germany), Yesilyurt Spor Kulubu (Turkey), Urbino (Italy), Vilsbiburg Rote Raben (Germany), Azeryol Baku (Azerbaijan), Panathinaikos (Greece)


If you could describe competing overseas in a few sentences, how would you describe it?

A constant unpredictable adventure. This is my fifth year abroad on my sixth professional team and I can say that each team and country I’ve played on brings a whole new set of extreme challenges and rewards. It’s crucial to be very adaptable (a new language, country, culture) and have a “go with the flow attitude” as irrational situations arise (…every day). It’s definitely a humbling experience and you learn a lot about yourself.

What is the biggest highlight or most memorable experience of your volleyball career so far?

Winning our fifth national championship in a row at UBC. I remember that last game so clearly. I was so nervous because it was my time playing as a thunderbird and when we won – I couldn’t quite believe it! It was so surreal.

Playing for the national team I have also had some incredible experiences. The opening ceremonies and athletes-walk out at the FISU games (Belgrade 2009 and Kazan 2013), playing in front of 10,000 screaming Peruvians in Cusco, every single unfortunate and hilarious incident we have each year at the Pan Am Cup (it’s a safe bet there will be one!), as well as having the home-crowd support at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. I have also had the privilege of playing in two World Championships with our women’s national team. Especially during these tournaments, it’s always such an amazing feeling to be representing Canada. But to be honest, the best parts for me are being able to complete every day, along side great teammates and friends. Going through the ups and downs of volleyball, competition, and life together make it all worth it. The women that I have played with inspire me constantly and the memories that I have with all of them will remain to be my favourite part of playing.


No matter who tries to talk you out of it, you need to have the unwavering belief in yourself that this is what you want to do.

What has been the biggest challenge about pursuing volleyball as a career?

The hardest part has definitely been being away from home for the majority of the year. Every summer since my first year university I have trained with the senior national team, where we trained in Winnipeg out of the University of Manitoba. Throughout the year (September – May) we are with our professional teams abroad. As rewarding as it can be, it’s hard to miss so much that goes on at home. It is certainly a large sacrifice that every single professional athlete doesn’t take lightly.

For me personally, it’s been hard to put myself first. Three years ago one of my twin brothers passed away and it’s been next to impossible to try and find time to grieve. Tragedies are not the only thing that we as athletes have to deal with, but training is often so demanding each and everyday that our psyche and spirit are often put on hold, coming second to physical training. Trying to find a balance between volleyball-life and everything is so important, but also extremely challenging.

How secure is a career in volleyball, have you ever had a tough game and thought you might get fired, had VISA issues or faced any other odd circumstances that come with being a professional athlete?

I have weird circumstances in every season abroad. Depending on your club or the country you’re entering in to, it can be a bit difficult to obtain a VISA. You are often a “sitting duck” waiting for the VISA to be processed while receiving a lot of pressure from your club to get on a flight a day or two later. I would say that the security depends on the league and club you are going to. In the more prestigious leagues around the world, a foreigner player is there to help the team win. If anything goes wrong, the team loses a few games, your performance is not up to standard, or you get injured, there is always a large change you could get fired. It definitely just depends on your situation but I would say it’s never totally secure. Even after bad games the management or president, can decide on a whim whether or not you are getting any portion of your hard-earned salary the next month. Or the next month. Or the one after that. I left my club team in Italy two years ago because we didn’t get paid for four months and were constantly being lied to by the club. Each summer, we as professional athletes are waiting or deciding between offers (most work with an agent so negotiations can be made through them) and a lot of them have the possibility to fall through. Sometimes you don’t receive an offer until the fall, or New Year, which can cause a lot of anxiety for the athlete. And even then, you’re packing your bags for 8 months, jumping on a plane, with your fingers crossed that it’ll be a good situation and hoping someone can speak a little English. Nothing is predictable, especially in this life. Which brings us to the next question:

What is the number one advice you would give to anyone looking at pursuing a career in volleyball?

Be brave. Believe in yourself. Being a professional athlete is not easy and this lifestyle isn’t made for everyone. As many rewards that come from this career, there are also a lot of times you may question whether this is the right path. But if you want it enough – own it. You’ll probably get asked, “ya, but when will you get a real job” but if this is the career you want, go at it with everything you have. No matter who tries to talk you out of it, you need to have the unwavering belief in yourself that this is what you want to do. You’ll have opportunities to meet fantastic people from all over the world. Visit places that you never would have seen otherwise. Gain some amazing experiences that only come hand in hand with this lifestyle. Have the courage to push past fears, doubts, and uncertainty and see what this experience can bring. See how much you’ll learn about yourself and the world. Believe me… it’s a lot. And it’s worth it.

What are you future volleyball goals and where do you see yourself 4 year’s from now?

My ultimate goal for volleyball is to make the Olympics. After two quads with the national team and a lot of shoulder rehab, my sights are set on playing one more. I believed wholeheartedly that last year’s team was going to qualify for Rio. We had the talent, skills, work ethic, and opportunity but didn’t go into the qualifier as prepared as we should have been. Our WNT center is moving to Richmond, B.C. this coming summer which provides a huge opportunity for the program to press the restart button. For some returning athletes, this also means bringing what we have learned over the past 4 to 8 years in hopes of helping this program be the strongest its ever been. As for what happens after this next quad: I’m not sure what the future holds. I’m just focused on these next four years and after that it’s a mystery!

However, what I’m most excited about is getting out into the community once our center moves to Richmond. This past summer I took break from national team and had the opportunity to help coach Team BC U16 girls which was just awesome!! It really pushed me and I learned so much working with Chris Dahl. I realized I have such a passion for giving back to these aspiring athletes not just on the court but outside; as a total athlete. I really want to find some opportunities that will allow me to do that, and get out into the schools and community to share a bit about my story and experiences. I have a lot brewing in my brain and I can’t wait for our WNT to start this new chapter!