ST. PAUL - For many young athletes pursuing sports at a higher level, the pandemic has offered many challenges to keep in shape and continue developing their skills. In St. Paul, the club volleyball organization known as St. Paul Rage was shut down halfway through its 2020 season, making for an abrupt and difficult end to a season that had hardly even started.
But, for one local volleyball player, the support of his family and a drive to continue to find opportunities to play the sport over the past year and a half has resulted in new opportunities being discovered outside the community.
Luc Billo explains that despite trying to get school gym time in St. Paul so his son, Nick, could continue to practice, nothing was available due to pandemic restrictions. So, the Billos looked to Edmonton to continue playing. Nick ended up joining FOG Red Volleyball Club, and was welcomed into the club.
"There was no tryouts required for him, past coaches remembered Nick’s skills and accepted him from his strong play," explains Luc, who is a past coach with St. Paul Rage. "This team was a stepping stone to get identified in the city."
Toward the end of the season, Nick's coach nominated him to try out for Team Alberta. Fitness requirements had to be submitted, along with a video of Nick doing a bunch of different skills related to the sport.
"We then received the email that Nick made the team as a 15-year-old," although most of the other players were a year older.
Nick had to train for rest of summer, sometimes twice a day, to get ready for the opportunity.
He then travelled to Edmonton for 10 days to train with other young volleyball players. It was not easy, according to his dad. First, the net was higher, also, Nick was playing a different position. He also didn't know anyone in the gym previously.
"Some of the athletes had been playing in high school for the last two years or had access to gyms with clubs all year, so their adjustment challenges were definitely easier," says Luc. But the proud dad says his son pushed through and had a great training session, and also won the mini tournament the last day.
Due to the pandemic, the usual tournament that would see volleyball players from across the country get together and battle it out on the court was cancelled. But, Nick has found other opportunities to keep him busy, such as taking part in an Excel University of Alberta Gold Bears camp this summer.
Following his success over the past few months, Nick has now signed on to play with FOG Black, one of the top volleyball teams in the province. He is also planning to tryout for the St. Paul Regional High School volleyball team as he enters Grade 10 this fall.
Nick plans to tryout for Team Alberta again this upcoming season, and hopes to one day continue playing the sport he loves into post-secondary.
"As a dad and coach, I am so proud of my son and how his intensity and hard work has given him these opportunities and finally paid off. Nick has also been seeing a personal trainer once a week while keeping a part-time summer job. Next year, all practices and games will be more than two hours away, which will be challenging," admits Luc, who is equally dedicated to the sport and helping his son succeed.