team canada

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: 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.

Featured Challenger Series Competitor: Ashley Simac

Formerly known as a Voth, Ashley is no stranger to the volleyball world. The product of two volleyball studs, it is no surprise that Ashley and her brother, Chris (currently competing in Finland), went on to do big things for Canadian volleyball. Both Ashley's dad and mom competed on championship CIAU teams; Lloyd, for the University of Manitoba Bisons and Val, for the Winnipeg Wesman.

Ashley went on to follow in her father's footsteps, where she had an amazing career as a Bison. She made waves immediately, becoming the CIS Rookie of the Year, and went on to be recognized as a 3-time CIS All Star, as well as a Bison Female Athlete of the Year. She competed with our Women's National Team for 4 years, where she met her husband, Adam Simac. And after completing her degree at U of M, they pursued their life overseas while continuing to compete. 

Check out more about Ashley below, and join us at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre on Saturday, January 7th, to see her in action!

Club: Bison Volleyball Club
Post Secondary: University of Manitoba Bison’s ’06-‘11
Professional: Volley Lugano, Lugano Switzerland ’13-‘14
National Team: ’06 –‘10

When did you start playing volleyball, and what inspired you to play?

I think I started playing volleyball from the moment I could walk.  Coming from a family with 2 parents as volleyball players, I was around the gym from a very very young age.  My parents were heavily involved in coaching and playing senior men’s/women’s volleyball as long as I can remember.

Did your family have a big influence on your success?

Yes, I would say so! Because my parents were so involved in volleyball, dinner conversations took a whole new meaning in the Voth household.  Needless to say my parents were huge supporters of both Chris and I, and whatever we hoped to achieve our parents were behind us 100%!

When you look back at your career, what is the biggest highlight and is there one moment or memory that stands out?

The biggest highlight of the volleyball career was definitely the silver medal we earned with my Bison team 2009-2010 season.  Although losing the gold medal match to UBC, our team played the best volleyball we could have imagined.  Coming out of a national championship knowing that you could not have done anything differently gives me a feeling of great accomplishment.

Who was your biggest coaching influence and is there something they taught you that stood out and helped you through your volleyball career?

Ken Bentley.  Ken coached me from the Bison club at 16U all through 5 years of University.  I attribute most (or all) of my success of volleyball to Ken.  I think the biggest thing he taught me was self-discipline.  Being disciplined on the court, learning to play under pressure, learning to work hard off the court in the weight room, as well as learning to balance school, volleyball, family and social life all through university.  

What are you doing now to stay involved in the volleyball community?

I currently coach a U16 club team in Toronto call Unity.  This is my second year coaching club volleyball, starting with a U15 team the previous year.  I am also an assistant coach with Ryerson Women’s volleyball team.

If there is piece of advice you would pass along to athletes aspiring to play for the National team and abroad, what would it be?

Goal setting!  Volleyball is a sport that with hard work and determination dreams (goals) can be achieved.

I am also a firm believer of the importance of off-court training and the value that it can provide to athletes on court.

Anything else interesting you would like to share with us?

I spent the last 4 years supporting my husband (Adam Simac) and his volleyball career.  I lived in countries like Slovenia, Turkey, Switzerland, and France. Along the way, I got to play (Volley Luagno), but I also completed a Masters while overseas and a 4-month internship at The World Health Organization in Lyon, France.   Some of the highlights I got to enjoy along the way: many Champions League games, attend 2014 World Championships in Poland, 2015 Pan Am Games, as well as many World League Games.

Featured Challenger Series Competitors: Kelly Nyhof and Thalia Hanniman

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.

Kelly Nyhof
Club: Georgetown Impact
College: Humber College
Canadian Women's National team member

Thalia Hanniman
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. 

Kelly Nyhof - National Team member, CCAA Player of the Year, CCAA All-Canadian.

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. 

Thalia Hanniman - OCAA Player of the year, CCAA All-Canadian, CCAA 1st Team All-Star.

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.