TORONTO — A new professional volleyball league has taken residency in Ryerson University's Kerr Hall gymnasium, and many Rams—both current players and alumni—have made a return to competitive volleyball in their old stomping grounds.
ONE Volleyball was founded by former professional players Jolande Amoraal and Jaki Ellis who, after finishing their careers abroad, were "inspired to create a similar atmosphere in Canada where they could challenge themselves and continue to grow as athletes," according to the ONE Volleyball website. What began as a series of tournaments throughout Ontario has now given rise to the ONE Volleyball Premier League.
"If an athlete wants to continue playing at an elite level once they have finished school, the only option is to go overseas to play. This means they have to put their career on hold while they pursue a sport they still have a lot to give to. ONE Volleyball's mission is to establish a professional league in Canada," as described on their website.
While the creation and development of a professional sports league takes time, for Rams alumni and current athletes in their offseasons, it is providing great competition and reps to stay game-ready.
For Ryerson outside hitter Lucas Coleman, staying game ready is definitely important throughout this offseason in particular as he is preparing for an international tournament.
"The level here is just awesome. There are a lot of pro [players] here, a lot of ex-CIS and U SPORTS players, OUA all-stars," said the U SPORTS First-Team All-Canadian. "It's great to be with this group, especially in the offseason getting ready for next season. It couldn't be a better summer training atmosphere."
For recent Rams alumni, the league is a way to stay sharp before heading oversees, and stay connected to the game while they look to life after graduation.
"The thing I wanted to get [in the league] is reps, and we're definitely getting good quality reps. It's definitely a step up from the OUA since you're seeing a lot of pro players which is great because next year I'll be playing in Finland," explained Uchenna Ofoha. "I'm getting a little taste of what it's going to be like next year."
As he alluded to, Ofoha will be travelling to Kokkola, Finland to play for Kokkolan Tiikerit of the Mestaruusliiga—the top professional volleyball league in the Scandanavian country.
For former Rams setter and 2016-17 women's team assistant coach, Emily Betteridge, getting a taste of a professional-style league has been a new and rewarding experience.
"I think it's been a good challenge, especially as a setter, getting to set different players—girls who have played overseas, older athletes who are used to different systems and things, so it's a good challenge for me looking towards the future," she said.
Betteridge, who started with the Rams during their inagural season at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Coca-Cola Court in 2012-13, also spent a significant amount of time in the Rams old home: Kerr Hall Gymnasium. She is enjoying playing in a gym that she is more familiar with than some of her teammates and opponents.
"It's nice, it's a good atmosphere. It's really loud and I actually like the closeness of it," she explained. "I know the gym a bit better than some of the other athletes, which is pretty nice."
Though the courts may be familiar, the age of her fellow Premier Leaguers is something quite foreign to her.
"The biggest difference you find playing in a league like this vs. the OUA is probably the age. Even being just a few years out of school, you notice a big difference from the OUA," Betteridge added. "I think the (older) girls are just smarter and are making smarter plays, so you have to be ready for that."
For these student-athletes, volleyball has been synonymous with their time at Ryerson. While the future of the ONE Volleyball Premier League is still being written, this group of Rams is enjoying playing volleyball at their university in the offseason.
The ONE Volleyball Premier League will be on campus until the end of July. You can view the schedule, rosters, and ticketing information by clicking here.
Past and present Rams players and coaches involved with the ONE Volleyball Premier League:
- Aleksa Miladinovic
- Oleg Kovalchuk
- Joren Zeeman
- Marc Reardon
- Chris McLaughlin
- George Sakvarelidze
- Lucas Coleman
- Stefan Ristic
- Uchenna Ofoha
- Kristina Vlcek
- Ashley Simac
- Emily Betteridge
- Veronica Livingston