volleyball canada

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

alex duncan-thibeault.jpg

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


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

pat s.jpg

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


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


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


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

Chris Voth: Athlete, Leader and Role Model

It's the best time of the year - playoff season! First, a huge congratulations to UBC Thunderbirds Women's Volleyball and Trinity Western Spartans Men's Volleyball for earning the first ever USports Volleyball Championship titles this weekend. It was a weekend filled with great matches and amazing crowds in both Toronto and Edmonton! If you didn't catch the action live, you can still watch the matches here. Although the USports Volleyball Championships are over, playoffs are just heating up for our Canadians competing overseas. We caught up with Canadian Chris Voth, following his last match of regular season Saturday, and heading into playoffs this week.

Chris Voth (12) blocking against fellow Canadian Steve Hunt (5)

Chris Voth (12) blocking against fellow Canadian Steve Hunt (5)

Post-Secondary: University of Manitoba
Professional: Abiant Lycurgus Groningen, NL (2014-2016), Perungan Pojat - Team Lakkapää (2016/2017)
Senior National A/B Team: 2011- 2016

Chris picked up a volleyball younger than most, with parents who were heavily involved in the sport as both coaches and athletes. He fell in love with the game at a young age, having the opportunity to watch high level University and National team matches in Manitoba. "I started idolizing the players [at the games] and wanted to be like them."  After graduating from High School he joined his sister, Ashley, at the University of Manitoba. Having an outstanding career as a Bison, Chris was selected to compete with the National Team at two FISU games in both 2011 and 2013, and has since continued to train with the National Team Program. He competed his first two seasons abroad in the Netherlands, where he earned a North Dutch Cup Championship and a Silver Medal in the Erendivise League.

Currently competing for Lakkapää in Finland, Chris and his team are excited heading into a best of 5 playoff series against the defending Champions and 4th place seed, Tiikerit. The match up happens to be against fellow Canadian, Steve Hunt, who has had an outstanding season in Finland this year. Chris joined the Finnish team half way through the season, helping them to a 5th place finish in the league, and hoping to help make a difference in their playoff push. Although Chris competed with a top 2 team in the Netherlands, the Finnish league is strong and the level has proven to be a step up. "There’s just a lot more experienced players and not as much of a drop off after the top couple teams."  Chris is very happy with his decision to play in Finland, and is looking forward to competing in the upcoming playoff series. But the road to get where he is today has not been easy, and Chris has shown great courage and strength, becoming a role model for athletes all of the world. 

In 2014, Chris came out as the first openly gay male volleyball player competing with the Men's National Team. Although his close friends had known for quite some time, coming out to his family and the volleyball community was a courageous step that Chris was ready to take. Support flooded in from the community, teammates and other athletes, but new challenges arose for Chris including setbacks and barriers for his volleyball career. After competing in the Netherlands for a team who was accepting and supportive, Chris was brought to a new realization of the barriers for LGBTTQ athletes when he lost a contract this past summer due to his sexual orientation. This setback sparked an even stronger desire within him to go after his dreams and to compete, showing other athletes that it is possible to be out and still be successful in sport.

"The experience in the summer wasn’t ideal, but it did allow me the opportunity to address the issues about sexuality in sport. Until that point, I would always read people’s comments that athletes don’t need to keep coming out and it doesn’t matter. In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter, but we aren’t there yet. The sporting culture around the world isn’t accepting and many athletes are afraid to come out. I’ve gotten many messages from athletes in different sports all around the world and it’s surprising to hear their stories. At the Olympics, there were 60+ out athletes, but only 11 were men and none were team sport athletes. This is a huge red flag for me and hopefully others. We have made progress but we are by no means close to perfect. There’s a lot of room to grow and I’m just trying to keep continuing that battle for the other gay athletes out there. Athletes are role models in the community and by changing the sport culture, I also hope that it changes the cultures outside of sport that may be a bit more conservative."

Chris has been an amazing leader, and is changing attitudes all over the world. Just a few weeks ago, he walked alongside his Finnish teammates and members of the club in Arctic Pride. The Pride took place just days after Finland legalized same sex marriage and the support shown by the small Northern community was felt by all. Being well known through the community, the crowd was chanting their team name and congratulating them. But as Chris said, although progress has been made, it is so important for us to continue to grow as an accepting and inclusive society. Chris talks below about what we can do as athletes, teammates and fans to help move us forward, as well as some of the amazing initiatives and organizations he is currently involved with.

"I do think there are a lot of barriers still. I think that it starts with the athletes themselves. From personal experience, a lot of negative thoughts come into your head when first discovering your sexuality. So if we can have more “out” athletes to set examples for others, that will help more come out. Another potential area for improvement would be the team. In sport, harsh language can really deter someone from coming out because they don’t feel welcome. Words matter. You may think you’re joking or that it doesn’t matter, but if someone is struggling in their own head, those words carry a lot of weight. It’s also scary risking being alienated from your team if you do come out, especially in volleyball because it is such a team sport. The teams themselves can also help by taking the initiative to demonstrate their commitment to being inclusive and accepting. The Canucks just had their Pride Night weeks ago. They don’t have any gay players but they still all wore rainbowed jerseys for warm up. That’s so great to see and I hope that other organizations follow suit. That’s one of the reasons it was so awesome to have our team in Arctic Pride, hopefully it will result in other teams in Finland and across the world to do the same. Lastly, fans can get super into the game. In the summer when I lost my contract, the team blamed opponent fans for the reason they didn’t want me on their team. I have played in many countries, including Russia on several different occasions, and haven’t had a problem. It is great to have passionate fans, but I don’t think we should accept discrimination. That is a tough one to regulate of course. You can see that there are potential problems at every level in the sporting world. It’s a complex issue and I don’t know the answer how to propel us forward. I hope that by being a voice for gay athletes that I can be a part of the solution. I’m hoping to inspire others to come out and to show that it is possible to be out and still succeed in sport."

"I have been a part of several different organizations since coming out. However, the one closest to my heart is Out There Winnipeg Sports and Recreation. When I first came out, I went to a gay drop in volleyball thing. I spoke about it a bit in my TEDx Talk, but it was funny because I wore ratty clothes because I didn’t want someone from the volleyball community to recognize me, as I was only out to a few people. It was a cool experience because I was terrified about being “out” but had volleyball to fall back on. I was able to just play. It was funny because I was shaking out of fear quite badly, which I’ve never experienced in a real volleyball match. This was different scenario for me. Perhaps that’s why out gay athletes statistically do better than their straight and closeted counterparts, because you strengthen yourself in the process of coming out. Anyways, the volleyball league falls under the Out There Winnipeg umbrella and because it was so important for my personal development, I wanted to offer that same experience to others. I am now the VP at Out There Winnipeg and have put a fair bit of money into it to try and get it off the ground more. We have a new logo, website and many new activities. Check out www.outtherewinnipeg.ca for more info."

Chris' next match is on Wednesday, March 22nd vs. Tiikerit, follow him on his Professional Volleyball journey here.


Pandas Seeking Gold at U Sports Volleyball Championships

It's an exciting time of year as the best teams across the country gather for the final weekend, where one team will be crowned for the 2017 season. On the men's side, the U Sports FOG Men's Volleyball Championships is taking place at the Saville Centre in Edmonton, where top seed and favourite Trinity Western will look to defend their U Sport Men's Volleyball title. Whereas here in Toronto, the University of Alberta Pandas head into the 2017 U Sport Volleyball Championships presented by Jason Rinaldi ranked 1st, looking to take their first U Sport Championship since 2007.

The Pandas Volleyball program, with coach Laurie Eisler (2016-2017 Canada West Coach of the Year) at the helm, is one of the most successful volleyball programs in the country, sitting just behind the UBC Thunderbirds who have claimed an outstanding 10 U Sports Championships. The Pandas, who took home the Canada West Conference title last weekend over UBC, are seeking their 8th U Sport Championship in program history this weekend in Toronto. With a strong season behind them, finishing 22-2 in the regular season, the Pandas feel more prepared then ever to hit the court this weekend.

"We have put in so much work as a team this year, and for the group of us graduating, we have put in 5 years worth of work (as well as all of the club years!) for this weekend.  To be rewarded as the best team in U Sport Volleyball is a pretty special accomplishment and is what we strive for every season." Meg Casault, 5th Year Panda and Canada West Player of the Year

As many of us know, the regular season means nothing in playoffs, where anything can happen in a single elimination bracket. No one knows it better than this Pandas squad. In 2015, many of these same athletes took the court in the Championship Final, where a relentless Trinity Western team came back from being down 2 sets, to win their first ever U Sports Championship, a daunting repeat of the Canada West Finals the weekend prior. And again in 2016, the Pandas, who had seemed to bounce back with a strong 2015-2016 season finishing 20-4 in regular season, fell short in Canada West Final Four, failing to reach Nationals for only the 2nd time since 2003.

Meg Casault - U of A Pandas Volleyball

Meg Casault - U of A Pandas Volleyball

For three Pandas athletes, including 5th Year Meg Casault, it will be the last chance to claim the U Sports Championship Title. "It would mean the world to me to end my career on a high note and to have that gold medal and that banner at the end of it. I am so proud of the work our team has put in this year in order to prepare us for this weekend. We have learned just how difficult it is to win and that no one is going to give it to us." Meg Casault has had an outstanding career with the Pandas, being named a First Team All-Canadian for the last three consecutive years. This season, Meg broke the Canada West All-Time Conference Kills record, and goes into the 2017 U Sports Championship named the 2017 Canada West Player of the Year.

The No.1 Pandas will face a tough opponent and host, No.8 Ryerson Rams, in their first round Quarter-Finals match-up this Friday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. This will not be the first time this Pandas squad has had to battle the host in Championship play. At the 2015 Championships, the Pandas ousted the University of Toronto in a 0-2 comeback; the 5 set comeback theme that seemed to ripple through the playoffs that year. "There is always the added challenge of being against the home crowd, but for me, that just fuels me to perform. I would pick a packed gym full of the opponent’s fans any day over an empty one! It will be an exciting environment to be a part of-and is what Nationals is all about; showcasing the best in Canada!"

Come out and watch the 2017 U Sport Women's Volleyball Championship presented by Jason Rinaldi from March 17th-19th at Ryerson University right here in Toronto! Tickets are available for purchase here.

1. Pandas (Canada West champions)
2. McMaster Marauders (OUA champions)
3. UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West finalists)
4. Montreal Carabins (RSEQ Champions)
5. Dalhousie Tigers (AUS Champions)
6. Western Mustangs (OUA finalists)
7. Trinity Western Spartans (Canada West bronze medalists)
8. Ryerson Rams (OUA 4th place/hosts)


Jen Cross: From NCAA Semi-Finalist to German League Champion

An Ontario native, Jen Cross has worked very hard to get to the top, and she is not looking back now. She began her career at the University of Michigan, were she helped the team to their first ever Final Four appearance. In an outstanding senior year, she lead Michigan in Blocks, Hitting Percentage and Points and still holds the Michigan Record for Assist and Solo Blocks.

Being one of the few Canadian female athletes to pursue a Professional Volleyball Career, Jen has made a huge impact in Europe so far. In her first professional season, she helped Engelholm capture both the Swedish Grand Prix and Swedish League Championships. Currently signed with Dresden Sports Club in Germany, Jen hopes to lead the team in capturing the German Bundesliga Championship Title for the second season in a row.

Talk about fierce, fearless females! We caught up with Jen before her big match on Sunday vs SSC Palmberg Schwerin, about the pressures of playing important games and her Professional experience thus far.

Club: Scarborough Titans 2006, 2007; Durham Attack 2008, 2009, 2010
Post-Secondary: University of Michigan 2010-2014
Professional: 2014-2015: Engelholm Volleyboll Sällskap - Sweden, 2015-2017: Dresden Sports Club - Germany
Team Canada: Indoor Junior Team 2008; Indoor Senior team 2011-present; Beach National Team 2010-2011

Sitting just two points behind SSC Palmberg Schwerin, in the German league, you have a big match coming up on Sunday. How do you handle the pressure of these matches and what do you do to help prepare yourself?

This Sunday is a big match for several reasons. Firstly, with the top teams this year so close in the standings, a win in 3 or 4 sets would really help us secure home advantage in playoffs. Secondly, because they are such a good team! It will be good to see how we have advanced since the last time we played them earlier in the year. We have had several line up changes since then and have really improved as a team. Will be a good test to see where we are at this point in the season.

You have competed in a number of big games, including NCAA final four, and both a Swedish and German league Championship. For Canadians who don’t typically see these huge crowds and rowdy fans at a volleyball match, tell us a little bit about these experiences. Do you have one match or moment that stands out the most?

Big matches like an NCAA final four or a German championship game can be very intimidating since it seems like your entire season has been working towards this one match. This can be a very intimating and a nerve racking experience if you aren't mentally prepared for it before hand. I always like to remind myself that I don't have to do anything crazy or special in these games. I just need to play the same way that has helped my team get to this point in the season. Usually these big matches are won by the team that can adjust the quickest to the big environment and can steady their nerves with the most ease, not the more talented team on paper. For me, the match that stands out most in my mind was the German cup game last season. We were playing a very difficult team in front of 17,000 people. The match went 5 sets. I ended up serving out the match! We won and our team couldn't have been happier!

What are some of the biggest differences between competing in the NCAA, Sweden and Germany?

In my opinion, it's almost a completely different game. In terms of volleyball skills, the biggest difference is the speed and power the game is played overseas. The tempo to everything you do is much quicker. Game scouting is much more complicated and overall you are playing with women who are bigger and stronger compared to the college game. However, the biggest difference for me is the mentality. In college, everyone in your program is working towards a common goal; to represent your school to the best of your ability and there is a lot of pride that goes along with playing for your university in front of your friends and family. However, playing overseas you must adjust your thinking to realize that this is a business. There is no way around that. You are hired to do a specific job. Your coaches lives depend on winning or losing. That reality is sometimes hard to deal with. This isn't a vacation or just an extended trip traveling, this is your job and you must be ready to perform.

Is there a particular coach who has helped you make it to the next level in your volleyball career?

I have been very very fortunate in both my college and club careers to have had amazing coaches that have all impacted my development in some way. In particular, my coach Leisa Rosen at Michigan made a profound impact on me as a player but more importantly as a person. Leisa always held me to the highest standard and pushed me to get better every single day. She also preached for me to let go of what I cannot control and to be okay being "uncomfortable".

"I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years." - Jen Cross (Right) with Canadian teammate Tabitha Love.

"I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years." - Jen Cross (Right) with Canadian teammate Tabitha Love.

Have you experienced any major setbacks and challenges pursuing a career in volleyball?

I have had several injuries that have caused me some set backs. A nagging knee injury that seems to have lasted years at this point. However, I have been relatively lucky that I haven't had any major issues that have threatened my playing career. I am very grateful for this since so much is up to chance!

What are your current and future goals and aspirations?

My current goal is to finish out this pro season as successfully as possible both on the court and off. The German season is very long with many games with the added travel and pressure of Champions league means a very very long season. Long term, I am really focused on helping Canada qualify for the Olympics in 4 years. Our center has just moved from Winnipeg to Richmond BC! This is a great opportunity for our program to really push ourselves to compete at the next level and push the program as far as possible.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would just add that playing professional volleyball is not easy. It is not a walk in the park and it's not just a fun way to delay getting a "real job" or at least that's how I have chosen to see it. I love volleyball but on tough days when you feel like crap and don't want to workout or you are sad you have missed a family get together or your mothers birthday....it's hard to remember why you chose this path. I find it helpful in these moments to remind myself of all the things volleyball has given me in my life! Endless travel to places in the world I would have never seen! Hundreds of teammates and life long friends and so many lessons learned it's hard to imagine the person I would be without these experiences. While playing overseas can be very difficult at times, the positive far out weighs the negative and I am having the time of my life!

Stephen Maar sets high expectations in Italy's Super League

Stephen Maar is doing something not many Canadians get to do in their entire pro career never mind fresh out of the CIS; jump right into what is arguably the top volleyball league in the world. Last fall, he made a bold first impression on his coaches, team and other top athletes in the league, but he acknowledges he has a lot of growing to do to help his team win. The expectations he sets for himself are always high, but grounded on principle derived from his rewarding experience at McMaster University. We are so excited to follow Maar's career, and it has only just begun! Here he shares the behind the scenes on playing against superstars like Ivan Zaytsev and dealing with the transition of varsity volleyball to a pro career. 

Club: Crush Volleyball
University: McMaster University
Professional: Pallavolo Padova

So getting right into it, you left McMaster in your fourth year? Was that always your plan or was that a hard decision?

My time at McMaster was always planned to finish after 5 years, I say this not simply as just my plan but also a developmental plan that was created for me and around me by the coaching staff. Dave Preston orchestrated a developmental plan that gave me a chance to develop, physcially, technically, tactically, and mentally through the years, in order to be successful at the national and then professional level. I will be forever grateful for the work he and my assistant coaches, Nathan Janzan, Dan Russel, and Mohannad Ibrahim did to help get me where I am now. Each of them in conjunction with Dave created an environment to succeed. In their own way each one also gave me advice to pursue my dreams and leave after my 4th year when the chance had presented itself.

It was a hard decision to leave a team that I felt like I had more to give too after our national final loss. I was also very fortunate that my family supported me through university financially, so the decision to get reduced version of my degree was a group one. Having a degree, family support, and coaching / friend support definitely gave me a very positive base to begin my pro career early.

What has the transition been like having to convert volleyball from a varsity experience to a career - how have you been managing those expectations?

The changeover has been an experience to say the least, to go from playing in a student athlete atmosphere and with your community of fellow athletes to crowds of thousands, sponsors, and management behind your team is quite a change. My expectations of being a pro definitely have been exceeded, as your entire life begins to blend within your career, the highs and lows felt on the court are shared with your life and vice versa.

Whereas in university you have school, social functions, among a variety of other “distractions”, pro affords less easy distractions when things aren't going your way. As I continue to develop there is a different kind of joy that I didn't have in CIS volleyball, to feel as you are moving up in your profession is a feeling I love.

"Competition at such a high level does reveal areas in your game that are lacking very fast, and it gets quite apparent when some of the best players in the world are trying to exploit your weaknesses." - Stephen Maar

For those who aren't familiar with the types of leagues in Europe and the level, give us an idea of what is was like getting signed to a team competing in this calibre league.

I did a bunch of goal setting when I was a younger athlete, one of my all time dreams was to maybe get good enough to play in the Italian Superlega. So to be fortunate enough to begin my career in such a league is beyond a dream come true. It is one of the best leagues in the world, has a knowledgable and committed fan base, and is a great league for technical development. These are all great things in itself, but lastly being able to live in a beautiful country with such a rich culture and heritage is a bonus for the history lover in me.

What has it been like competing against athletes like Ivan Zaytsev?

It has been a really cool experience as I am a self-proclaimed volley nerd, to now play against people I grew up watching is amazing. It develops a deeper sense of confidence when you succeed against some of the best players in the world. Competition at such a high level does reveal areas in your game that are lacking very fast and it gets quite apparent when some of the best players in the world are trying to exploit your weaknesses.

You mentioned you have an upcoming match against Milano, and Nick Hoag plays for that team. Do you joke about being rivals or what is the camaraderie like?

Volleyball, Hoag against Maar: Milano-Padova

I am fortunate to have been able to play for the senior national team a couple times this past summer so meeting and developing some relationships with guys who are already overseas and have spent some years here has been really helpful. That being said I do keep in contact with some of the guys my own age as well and have a fun time checking in with each other, in fact I ran into Jordan Nowakowski at a gas station in the middle of Italy! So fun little events like this make Canada seem not as far away. I try to tune in and watch some of the guys whether it is domestic competition or champions league, but on the court it is about winning.

What are you hoping to get out of this season, and if you have already, what goals have you set for your next season?

This season my goal is to make the playoffs, and be a top 5 point scorer as a receiver in the league, both are very lofty especially in the Italian championship but it helps keep me focused and gives me measurable things to set myself against. For me next season is really a world away so I haven't given it much thought, I will definitely begin some goal setting once I complete this year and have returned home.

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.