Surreal and wonderful doesn’t even being to describe the feeling Jordan Nowakowski gets when he steps on the court.
Nowakowski, who signed a contract with the A.S.D. Volley Castellana-Sol Lucernari in the Italian Serie A2 League immediately following his final year of eligibility in 2015-16, is one of five alumni from the program playing professionally in Europe.
Braden McLean, Matthew Busse, Bryan Fraser and Olympain Gavin Schmitt join Nowakowski in the professional ranks.
“Playing volleyball as my job is surreal,” said Nowakowski. “Saying that I am playing professional volleyball is one of my most favorite accomplishments so far in my life.”
In Europe, volleyball has a large professional scene, with many leagues and tiers across countries alongside a Champions League where these teams meet in a European-wide competition.
“In Canada, the best players play university volleyball (CIS), whereas in Europe, guys are practicing and playing with professional clubs as young as 16, and if they are good enough, this is their job right out of high school,” he said. “I have four sixteen-year-old teammates.”
Over the summer, well-known volleyball alum Schmitt joined Asseco Resovia in Poland’s PlusLiga, a six-time Polish Champion and three-time Polish Cup winner. Recently, Schmitt announced his retirement from the national team, after captaining Canada to a quarter-final berth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, to focus on injury recovery and commitment to Asseco Resovia.
Schmitt joined the Huskies in 2005 and has played for the Canadian National Senior Team since 2007 while playing for professional teams across the globe from Brazil, Turkey, and South Korea.
Busse, a Huskie from 2009-15, returned to Germany for his second professional season. He will play for the Division 2 team FC Shuttorf 09. In his career, Busse reached 10th place respectively in kills and points in Huskie career records.
A member of the national team program, McLean signed with the Saint-Nazaire-Atlantique in France’s A2 League.
“To be able to play the sport that you love, in new places across the globe, not something many people have an opportunity to do,” Braden McLean said. “I’m lucky to be in the position that I am in.”
McLean is not the only former Huskie on the national program with a new professional contract. Teammate Fraser joins Abiant Lycurgus in Netherland’s Division 1 League. Fraser played for the Huskies from 2010-2014. Previously, he played for the United Volleys, a Division 1 German team.
“Next for me in that respect is hopefully get a chance to play for the A squad this coming summer,” McLean said. “I’ve been close the last two summers, being on the World League roster but never actually participating, I’m hoping that soon changes.”
In the 2016-17 season, the Huskies will go without setter CJ Gavlas. Gavlas was selected as a member of the Junior National Team and will spend the year training in Gatineau, Quebec at the national team’s full-time center. Gavlas turned heads in 2015-16. He was named Huskie Athletics Male Rookie of the Year, Canada West Rookie of the Year, and CIS Rookie of the Year.
The athletic accomplishments extend to the current team, as well. Rookie setter Derek Epp was also a member of the Canadian Junior National Team in the summer of 2016. Epp is already a four-time provincial player and former member of the National Men’s Youth Team. He joins his brother, Tyler, on the court for the Huskies.
The Huskies, who finished second in the Canada West and fourth in the CIS last season, open the 2016-17 Canada West men’s volleyball season Friday and Saturday against the UBC Thunderbirds. Match time is 8 p.m.