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Leah Weatherhead, Mia Ruse, Nina Kovacevic and Madeline Pelosi

Leah Weatherhead, Mia Ruse, Nina Kovacevic and Madeline Pelosi

Written by Veronica Noronha

What does it take to play volleyball at the post-secondary level in Canada?

First, you need passion for the sport, commitment to continuously improve and a network of like-minded athletes and coaches to support you along the way.  What if you have these traits and want to play on a varsity volleyball team? Furthermore, what if you are a girl perfectly equipped to play at this level?  How do you effectively get in front of multiple university coaches in one place? This is a key challenge for girls in the 15-18 age group.

In fact, historically, that opportunity simply did not exist, until 2021. The Markham Pan Am Centre transformed its 36,000 sq. foot gymnasium into seven volleyball courts to host over 200 athletes and almost 20 universities from across the country at the first ever Canadian University Volleyball Camp & Showcase.  In one weekend, athletes had the unique opportunity to meet and train on the courts, in person, with Canada’s top university coaches and learn about the Canadian university recruitment process.  The event was represented by high performing female athletes aged 15U-18U, from over 10 different provinces.  Coaches flew in from the east and west coasts for the opportunity to work and meet Canada’s top potential recruits.  It was a win-win for everyone involved and a springboard for future recruitment opportunities on both sides.

We caught up with a few of the participating athletes to learn about their journey and to find out what inspires them.  All-around athletes, Leah Weatherhead from Nova Scotia, Mia Ruse and Nina Kovacevic from British Columbia and Madeline Pelosi from Ontario all participated in the showcase and took time to chat with us.

Weatherhead, places high importance on continuously improving her skills and strives, “to be the best athlete and person she can possibly be”. At 16 years old, she has been on the competitive volleyball circuit since grade seven and what she loves most about the sport is the opportunity to create bonds with like-minded athletes. When she is not playing volleyball, she is hitting the basketball courts with her high-school team, chasing a provincial title. She attributes her ability to manage both sports to the time she spends strength training, which she believes is the key to being ready for the next game.

Ruse and Kovacevic, teammates from the west coast currently play in the BCO club. Both have skills that exceed their age category and as a result play at the 18U level. Ruse grew up around the volleyball courts and is following in her father’s footsteps. Kovacevic on the other hand is relatively new to the sport and started her athletic path on the tennis court at a young age. There came a point where she had a stronger preference for a team sport and pursued volleyball. She was hooked from the first try-out and has stuck with it for the past two years. Having teammates to rely on and achieving a win together is what they both love most about volleyball. Both have plans to continue playing well into the future and aspire to hit courts on the international stage, setting their eyes on professional European leagues once they get through university.

Pelosi like Ruse has been around the volleyball courts from childhood and was inspired by her older sister to take it up. Playing since grade two, what she enjoys most is, “sharing those moments with teammates when we win a rally”. She goes on to say that there is no greater feeling than, “hitting the ground making awesome plays”. When asked about the most challenging aspect of the game, Pelosi says getting past her nerves is tough. She gets through these moments by reminding herself that her teammates and coaches, are there to help her through. Being from Etobicoke, ON, the Markham Pan Am Centre is familiar to Pelosi as she has competed here at city finals and in tournaments over the past several years. Her words, “this is the best gym!”.  Of the facility, Ruse commented on the safety and cleanliness and appreciate the ceiling height and commented that bright lights gave them the energy they need to focus on their game.

We asked Weatherhead, Ruse, Kovacevic and Pelosi what this showcase means to them. They agreed that it was a welcome opportunity to build their skills, meet new people and learn from many high-performance coaches.  The Event provided athletes with an opportunity to get in front of top university coaches from across the country in one place, at one time and hopefully provided a platform for visibility and exposure to many of the schools Canada has to offer.  They also view this event as an example of how things are improving for women and girls in sports and see it a step toward leveling the playing field for girls in competitive sports.

About the Author

Veronica Noronha is the Communication Lead for the Markham Pan Am Centre and Markham Sport Development.

About Markham Pan Am Centre

The City of Markham commissioned this facility as a host venue for the 2015 Pan American and ParaPan American Games. Our world-class facility includes an Olympic sized swimming pool and multiple gymnasiums that are ideal for hosting International competitions in a number of sports.

City of Markham

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