Defensa Volleyball Club
Like many athletes who play volleyball, they would mention it’s the team aspect that got them hooked, especially if you started playing young. The chance to meet and make a new friend in your neighbourhood or municipality every practice or tryout is the draw and what sport means for a child at that time. Eventually, that evolves into taking the game more seriously with skill development and collecting medals across the province taking to the forefront, but the friendship dynamic only strengthens because it takes the cohesiveness of that team to get the job done. That evolves still with the athlete looking outside, thinking nationally and globally and as a working lifestyle and while the people in your group might be different when you reach that level, the friendship is just as strong and means just as much as when you started.
“I remember the first Olympics that I was alive for I would wake up with my parents and watch and I would tell my friends that one day I’m going to be there,” Viktoria Wahlgren recalls. “That was always a dream of mine, to go to the Olympics and play for the National Team. As soon as I realized I had the potential to play at that next level it’s just pushing me even harder to work as hard as I can all of the time and just the thought of knowing there’s a chance has been pushing me every day.”
That potential Wahlgren mentions was sparked when she made the High Performance Centre (HPC) her first year and subsequently was selected for Team Ontario Red, gaining the confidence and understanding that she could take her talents higher and higher and placed in an environment where other players were vying for the similar aspirations as she was.
“When I was younger I just played for fun and never really thought that I was that amazing, just wanted to be with my friends,” Wahlgren says of her outlook on volleyball before the HPC.
From making Team Ontario this past year, Wahlgren and other Team O athletes were asked to go to the National Excellence Program (NEP) Selection Camp where they trained for three hours on one evening. Several months later, she received an email indicating that she was one of 16 athletes across the country to participate in the NEP.
“Initially, it was hard for me to make the decision,” Wahlgren admits. “It was hard to leave my team back in Ontario for that long but I’m really excited to work with new coaches, the top athletes in Canada and get such a high level of training, and there also meet new friends and make new memories. I’m also excited to come back with new knowledge to my team.”
As one can imagine, there is little room for error on the international stage and the Defensa setter looks to be more prepared for that level of game.
“I want to work on my consistency and game IQ, becoming more accurate with my setting,” she says. “As a setter you have to understand the game really well, so you have to look at your match-ups and put your hitters in the most ‘scoreable’ positions. To do so, you have to see where the blockers are on the other side and what your middles can run – there are just so many things you have to think about and be calm in high pressure situations because your team looks to you.”
As a fairly tall individual, Wahlgren thought she would be a middle but her coach saw potential in her setting, though she originally thought otherwise.
“For so long I had no idea why he thought I should be a setter…I was really bad,” Wahlgren reflects on her coach’s decision. “I would go home frustrated thinking why is he making me struggle through this but now I love it so much and I can’t see myself playing any other position.”
As a tall setter, Wahlgren additionally says it gives her more flexibility to be a six-rotation player.
The grade 10 student-athlete has another goal of playing volleyball for the NCAA in a Division I program and eventually in Europe for a professional league; a path mirroring someone she very much looks up to, National Team athlete and Defensa alumni Autumn Bailey.
“When I was really little, she would come back and she would help coach camps,” she says of Bailey, who played collegiate volleyball for Michigan State University and participated at the 2018 FIVB Women’s World Championship. “I would work with her and I just loved her attitude, and even though she wasn’t a setter, would watch her and think I want to be like that one day.”
Wahlgren and the rest of the athletes selected for the NEP will have the opportunity to tread that path and do what Bailey and many other athletes have done when their training starts in the Fall of 2020.
About the National Excellence Program
The National Excellence Program is designed to prepare athletes to perform at the highest level of volleyball and to continue their development towards the National Senior Team Program and/or playing professional volleyball.
Athletes are exposed to an array of Sport Science and Sport medicine services, dispensed by leading Canadian practitioners in a holistic high-performance environment.
Read more about Volleyball Canada’s NEP here.
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