Warm salutations to all the volleyball lovers out there! Nataliia here, ready to take you on an immersive journey through the ebbs and flows, triumphs and challenges, that defined Natke Volleyball's 2023. This isn't just a recap; it's a saga of resilience, growth, and the unwavering spirit that binds us together.
(A Photo Capturing Victories, Lost but Not Forgotten)
Prelude: The Last Dance and the Echoes of War
The story begins in 2022 when my MRU Cougars team set its sights on Nationals as I knew that after it I will go back home to Ukraine to join the National Team—a chance for me to reunite with friends in what we jokingly called "the last dance." Excitement filled the air as I anticipated returning home, not having seen my parents since 2017. Little did I know that the spectre of war would cast its dark shadow over my plans.
The Eastern part of Ukraine, my childhood haven, was engulfed in conflict. The dreams of returning to my safe, familiar home were shattered in a day. Bombings ravaged my hometown, leaving me grappling with the harsh reality that I do not have a home anymore. The sudden silence of mobile service left me in the dark about my parents' fate. Life's priorities shifted in mere seconds.
The Unlikely Pivot: From Hockey Canada to Natke Volleyball
Amidst the chaos, a unique opportunity emerged as then I had to start making money to help my parents—a short-term contract with Hockey Canada as the manager of the U18 women's national team. While an unreal experience, it felt strange to be in a team sport where my expertise was limited. A pivotal moment arrived when the realization struck—I wanted to be in volleyball, doing what I loved.
Thus, the Natke Volleyball journey began to take shape. Over two months of contemplation and creation, the website you see today was born. Little did I know that destiny had more in store for me.
Serendipity at JVCENTRE: A General Manager's Tale
Destiny unfolded in the form of a meeting with Matthew Stayner, paving the way for a job at JVCENTRE as the General Manager. Now, armed with access to courts and a pulse on facility availability, the foundation for Natke Volleyball's growth was laid.
Step by step, whispers of Natke Volleyball began circulating. People started talking, players were drawn in, and our humble initiative began to gain momentum. However, success brought its own challenges. The demands of managing the facility during the day and training players after 4 pm took a toll. The burning desire to grow and accommodate the surging interest in Natke Volleyball fuelled my determination.
The Brotherhood of Coaches: From Ukraine to Canada
Let's rewind to the distant echoes of a training camp in Crimea. Kharkiv Lokomotiv's team, boasting 6-foot-4 titans, left an indelible mark. Among them was Pavel Liashenko, a tall, skinny setter radiating optimism. Pasha grew up in Kharkiv, where he accomplished his coaching degree at the University of Physical Education. We crossed paths all the time, as the volleyball world is so small. Later on, Pasha's family had to move to Israel due to the health issues his mom was going through. In order to save her life, the family had to relocate to a country that could guarantee her well-being. Fast forward to 2023, and Pavel, now my good friend, arrived in Canada on January 1st, ready to inspire the younger generation of volleyball players.
A phone call from Dima Fedorenko added another chapter to our story. Navigating the harsh realities of war, Dima sought refuge in Austria while having a playing contract with the country's top team. His dream of expanding coaching skills aligned with my vision, given his father's talent as a coach, leading to his arrival in May. Here's where it gets interesting—Pavel and Dima, once teammates, experienced a poignant reunion on foreign soil.
Uliya Gerasymova: A Tale of Soulmates
Excitement peaked with the news of Uliya Gerasymova possibly joining our ranks. Uliya and I had shared the court in Ukraine's ZTMC Orbita, creating cherished memories. We had one of the best seasons together, and I spent my last two weeks in Odessa, Uliya's hometown before heading to Canada.
Her husband, Dennis Parvadov, once a very talented basketball player who graduated from the University of Physical Education with Uliya, turned his passion to a coaching career. We used to joke that they would move to Canada, but Uliya, being a lover of warm temperatures, was always hesitant due to the cold winters. War changed everything. When they spent a couple of months under bombing in the town of Dnipro and then saw an opportunity to leave the country, the stars aligned. Uliya, along with her husband Dennis Parvadov, landed in Calgary in June.
Our team of five dove headfirst into a whirlwind of camps and individual sessions, painting the gym with echoes of spikes and serves. I express immense gratitude to Matt and Delia Stayner, whose unwavering support fuelled our journey.
Julia Pakhomenko: A Reunion of Teammates and Shared Dreams
As the fall leaves began to descend, a familiar face from my past entered the scene—Julia Pakhomenko, a dear friend and former teammate from Severodonets. Having relocated from Kamloops to Calgary, I reached out to her, inquiring if she would be interested in joining our growing team.
Our history on the court traced back to university days, where we played together on the university team. Julia, driven by her passion for the sport, later opted for NCAA, followed by a stint with TRU Wolf Pack as she pursued her master's degree. Notably, it was Julia who played a pivotal role in my journey to Canada, convincing me to make the leap, for which I remain profoundly grateful.
Adding to the narrative, Julia, just 11 months after welcoming a baby, reunited with us, generously sharing the wealth of knowledge she had accumulated over the years. The warmth of familiarity and the shared dreams of our volleyball journey continued to evolve as Julia became an integral part of our ever-growing team.
Strategic Alliances and Team Expansion: A Journey with Under Armour, Calgary Sports and Social Club, and More
Amidst the dynamic growth, we strategically aligned with renowned sports brand Under Armour to elevate our offerings. This collaboration aimed to provide our players with top-notch gear and apparel, ensuring they had the best tools to excel on the court.
Additionally, a significant milestone in our journey involved forging a partnership with the Calgary Sports and Social Club. This collaboration marked the inception of group sessions tailored for adults eager to learn and embrace the nuances of volleyball. It was an initiative aimed at bringing the joy of the sport to a wider audience, fostering a community of enthusiasts.
As we continued to broaden our horizons, two remarkable individuals, Jessica Osczevski and Maddy Marshall, former teammates from the MRU Cougars, joined our ranks. The bond forged during our university years laid the foundation for this reunion. Their wealth of experience as Canadian players added a distinctive flavour to our team, as they embraced the mission of sharing their insights and skills with the younger generation.
The echoes of our shared journey on the courts of MRU Cougars resonated in this collaboration, creating a harmonious blend of camaraderie and a collective commitment to nurturing the next wave of volleyball enthusiasts. Together, we ventured into new realms, united by our passion for the sport and the shared belief in its transformative power.
A Collective Vision: Dreaming Big in 2023 and Beyond
Surrounded by a circle of like-minded individuals, each marching to the beat of their passion, Natke Volleyball thrived. The coaching team, born from diverse corners of the globe, united with a shared vision: to showcase the overseas volleyball that fuelled our lives.
As we look back on 2023, I want to convey a message to aspiring players—there's a realm of volleyball beyond college and university. Dream big, set those audacious goals that pull you out of bed in the early hours, and persevere through the trials of the path less traveled.
Gratitude and Future Plans
To everyone who trained with us, followed our journey, or simply shared our love for the sport, thank you. As we step into the new year, Natke Volleyball has bold plans. The adventure continues, and we're determined to grow, offering an unparalleled service and experience.
So here's to the countless rallies, the laughter echoing in the gym, and the unspoken camaraderie that fuels Natke Volleyball. Join us as we embrace the unknown, dream big, and leap into a future brimming with more victories, more learning, and an undying love for the game.
As the curtain falls on 2023, Natke Volleyball stands tall, ready to script yet another chapter in the journey that defines us. Stick around, the best is yet to come!