Keaton Strom and Riley Friesen were teammates in the inaugural season of the Calgary Premier League, both playing for the JVC Timberjacks. Riley Friesen was notably the 2nd round draft pick.
You can find both of these athletes playing in Europe this season. Keaton is playing in Sweden with Habo Wolley for his first professional contract and Riley is in his 2nd contract in Denmark with Middelfart.
How did you first get involved in volleyball? Was there a person or reason that got you started in the sport?
Keaton: My volleyball career got started late as I was a basketball player growing up. I played volleyball casually between seasons just to keep in shape! I started playing club in grade 11 (U17) and then my love for the sport took over basketball after a really enjoyable high school season. I haven’t looked back since!
Riley: I first got involved in the sport in grade 8. I was an active child, playing every sport I could. There was something distinctly different about volleyball that made fall in love with the feeling of the game. My mom influenced me the most as she had been a volleyball player in her youth playing for the University of Manitoba and a brief career with the national team. She encouraged me to try out for the local club team after I expressed my feelings for the game.
Do you have any major goals you want to reach in your professional career?
Keaton: My top goal is to make it to Italy’s 2nd division. I’ve always wanted to live in Italy and learn the language, so if I can play ball and do that, I’d be over the moon! I’m also exploring the idea of making a run for the Canadian National B team this summer…but it’s more of a dream than a conscious goal for now.
Riley: Not at this time. I’d like to use my career as a tool to travel Europe and experience living in a different part of the world for 1 or 2 years before pursuing a business career.
Keaton - this is your 1st contract overseas, how has that experience been so far? Have you had any challenges or successes this season that you want to share?
So far, it’s been amazing!
Definitely not without some adversity, but overall, I’ve been really enjoying myself here in Sweden. Most of all, I’ve been loving being able to have volleyball in the forefront of my day and mind to focus on without any significant distractions around me.
Riley - this is also your first year overseas, but your 2nd contract since you just switched from Greece to Denmark. Can you talk about why you changed teams?
In Greece I struggled to perform, I was ineffective in both passing and attacking during my time there. It was different than playing University or club. It was no long playing for fun, competition or love of the game. It was now a business. You had to perform and if you didn’t to the level the team needs…well there is no obligation for them to keep you around especially if you’re an international player and expected to be a top player on the team.
I was fortunate enough to find another contract in the Danish league through a friend who was coaching in the league. I wanted to finish off the year and give myself another chance to perform instead of going home.
How did you guys find the transition from university to professional? Was it a natural progression or was there a learning curve involved with different training and nutrition etc. Do you still keep in touch with your university team mates and coaches?
Keaton: I personally think [the transition] would’ve been tough if it wasn’t for the Premier League this summer. Even with the training, I noticed a jump in the level of playing, there was definitely a learning curve. I’ve taken to the workouts and nutritional side of my career and it’s a lot easier to take care of my body for games and practices without having to worry about assignments and classes.
There are some guys on my old college team that I keep in touch with, but just as their lives keep moving forward, so does mine, so I’m certainly not keeping up perfectly with them all.
Riley: The biggest difference is the amount of free time in your schedule. Once you’re playing overseas your only obligations are to practice and work out, at most that’s 5-6 hours on the busiest of days. For most athletes, a busy schedule is something we have gotten accustomed to for almost our entire lives. Learning how to be disciplined and productive with that free time is something I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with.
I don’t stay in touch with my university teammates and coaches. They are having a great season and I hope they continue on the path they are on but I mainly keep in touch with family and friends.
How do you foresee the rest of your season going?
Keaton: It’s up in the air…but I’m optimistic. We absolutely have a shot [at playoffs], but it will take a lot of hard work in order to capitalize on it.
Riley: Right now, Middelfart is in the middle of the Danish league and we just won 2 important games against teams that are close to us in standings. The current goal is to get as high as possible in the standings so we can set ourselves up for a favourable quarterfinal match-up. If we continue to grow as a team I believe that we have a shot at upsetting the top teams and making a push for the championships!