Photo by Diego Guillen

Ten Rams find summer home in Premier Volleyball League

By Jessica Pincente

TORONTO — Ten past and present Rams have found their way back onto the volleyball court at Ryerson University this offseason through ONE Volleyball's Toronto Premier League.

A summer league established in 2017, ONE Volleyball houses some of the best interuniversity and professional athletes in the country. Their mission is clear: “to launch professional volleyball in Canada and provide elite competition to our best post-secondary athletes”, according to the league’s website. 

On the men’s side, current Rams and Premier League rookies Joel Hannan (Toronto, Ont.) and Omari Young (Toronto, Ont.) were selected by the Madawaska Madness, while alumni Chris McLaughlin and Oleg Kovalchuk joined the Magnes Spartans. Uchenna Ofoha, another alumnus, returned to the Soul Machine for the third consecutive season. 

The women’s teams feature four current Rams and one alumna. Premier League veteran Lauren Veltman (Brampton, Ont.) returned to the Q2 Panthers this year while U SPORTS All-Rookie Lauren Wong (Scarborough, Ont.) joined alumna Veronica Livingston on Soul Machine. Freshman Teodora Vukovic (Mississauga, Ont.) was drafted to the Madawaska Madness while fellow OUA first-year Sara Piana (Ottawa, Ont.) was selected by the Galaxy Volleyball All-Stars. 

Each team plays six regular-season and one postseason match at different venues across the province, culminating with the Premier Cup Finals at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre on July 17.

A 2019 OUA First-Team All-Star, Lauren Veltman returned to the Q2 Panthers for the second consecutive season. She was recently named Player of the Game after her Panthers earned a 2-1 (15-9, 16-13, 13-15) win over the Galaxy Volleyball All-Stars on June 20. 

Veltman began practicing with Q2 during their inaugural season back in 2017. She says that playing in the league has an incredible learning experience. 

“It’s a great way to compete against so many different athletes who have played all over the world,” says Veltman. “It’s an amazing experience, learning from athletes you’ve never played with before.” 

To former Ram Uchenna Ofoha, ONE Volleyball provides him with an opportunity to stay fit and compete against high-level athletes throughout the summer. 

“The level of competition is high,” says Ofoha. “You’ll often see athletes you competed against in the OUA, so it’s similar to university volleyball in that way, but different because there are also former professional and national team players, so the quality of volleyball is high.”

                                                                         Uchenna Ofoha of the Premier League's Soul Machine. (Photo by Diego Guillen)

Ofoha spent five years as apart of Ryerson’s men’s volleyball team, earning OUA First-Team All-Star honours in his final year as a Ram. After graduating from Ryerson, the middle blocker headed to Europe to play professionally in Finland and Germany. He’s played in the Premier League since its inception in 2017. 

Ofoha and the Soul Machine often face off against current Rams or Rams alumni, many of who Ofoha has become friends with during his time in the league, including Joel Hannan. 

Hannan, a graduate student, just wrapped up his first year in the OUA. Similarly to Ofoha, Hannan decided to play in the Premier League this year because of the high level of competition. He adds that, as an athlete who has only played in the OUA for one year, he’s benefitted from the professional setting and composure of his teammates. 

“We’re playing with athletes who have five or more years of professional experience on top of their OUA careers, and there’s a lot of details I’ve noticed that you don’t necessarily see in university volleyball,” says Hannan. “No one has holes in their game, no one makes mistakes. It’s impressive seeing players who have that mentality — how they carry themselves in between points if they do make mistakes, how easily they move on from it. I’ve been trying to stay in a learning mindset all summer and I think that’ll pay off when I come back next year.”

Hannan has been playing volleyball since he was 18. A competitive beach player, he made the transition to indoor and opted to play in the Premier League this summer as a way to elevate his game. Both Hannan and Madawaska teammate Omari Young (Toronto, Ont.) began playing volleyball later in their teenage years, and the Premier League has helped both athletes see a different side of the game. 

“Omari and I share a similar mindset because we both started playing volleyball later than most athletes,” says Hannan. “We don’t have those tens of thousands of reps or touches like most of our teammates. It’s nice having him around because we share the same goals. We both wanted to get more reps in, and wanted to do that around guys who have a lot more experience than we do.”

On the women’s side of the league, Veltman often finds herself facing off against some of her Ryerson teammates. Playing on the opposite side of the net as her fellow Rams is both exciting and challenging, she says.

“It is a little weird, but it does help to know their tendencies during the game,” says Veltman. “It also makes the game feel that much more competitive. Everyone wants to win, and playing against your own teammates makes it more fun and exciting.”

All in all, the Rams have found the ONE Volleyball experience to be of great benefit to them, whether it be through their growth and development in a competitive environment, the opportunity to play and stay fit during the offseason, or the chance to face off against some of the best athletes in the country. 

“I find I’ve matured in the game more compared to my first couple of years at Ryerson,” says Veltman about her time in the league. “Competing with athletes who have played professionally overseas and who have experienced so much more has given me a different perspective on the game.” 

                                                                         Lauren Veltman of the Premier League's Q2 Panthers. (Photo by Diego Guillen)

Unlike Veltman, Ofoha spends his summers splitting time between Canada and Europe. When he’s in Canada, though, he says the Premier League is where he chooses to play. 

“It’s by far the best competition in the city,” says Ofoha. “When I’m here, that is definitely my first choice in terms of training.”  

Hannan, on the other hand, has learned a lot from his teammates and the professional atmosphere. He says he hopes to walk into the OUA season a more experienced volleyball player.   

“I’m hoping to gain a mentality of expecting more from myself,” says Hannan. “I want to know that I’m going to be able to pass the ball to my setter to make a good play, every time. If that doesn’t happen, to keep my composure but hold myself accountable to that mistake. Every player in the Premier League holds themselves to a higher standard, and I want to reach that level.”

The Premier Cup finals will take place at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre on Thursday, July 18. Tickets can be purchased here

A full list of Ryerson athletes and alumni participating in the league can be found below: 

Joel Hannan (2018-present) - Madawaska Madness

Omari Young (2018-present) - Madawaska Madness

Uchenna Ofoha (2012-17) - Soul Machine

Chris McLaughlin (2006-11) - Magnes Spartans

Oleg Kovalchuck (2005-09) - Magnes Spartans

Lauren Wong (2018-present) - Soul Machine

Teadora Vukovic (2018-present) - Madawaska Madness

Sara Piana (2018-present) - Galaxy Volleyball All-Stars

Lauren Veltman (2016-present) - Q2 Panthers

Veronica Livingston (2012-17) - Soul Machine

More information about ONE Volleyball Premier League can be found here.

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