toronto sport

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 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.