toronto

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


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."

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!