By Melissa Novacaska
Shaïnah Joseph’s volleyball journey is well beyond what she would have ever imagined when she first tried the sport and hated it.
The Ottawa-native, who now resides in Vancouver, B.C. for six months of the year to train with Volleyball Canada’s National team, said she was first introduced to the sport in elementary school.
“In gym class it was one of the hardest sports to play with a bunch of people because you had to be super skilled to play that sport. It was the most boring sport you could play in gym class,” Joseph told the Ottawa Sportspage in a phone call from California.
The 24-year-old said she set out a goal for herself in Grade 6 to make all of her school’s sports teams, and out of them all, she didn’t crack a spot on the volleyball roster.
“I was very upset about that because, I’m like ‘it’s not even a real sport,’” Joseph said.
She later successfully tried out at École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité, and from there, stuck with it.
According to Joseph, she was terrible the first year she played, but got much better in her second season.
“I was very physical, but I was not controlled,” Joseph said.
She decided to pick up the sport outside of school by joining the Maverick Volleyball Club, which in time, led to her excelling in the sport and receiving offers from universities in Canada, and later from NCAA schools in the United States.
The University of Nebraska was her dream school for some time before she was recruited by the University of Florida, where she says she fell in love.
The combination of the Gainesville campus, the school’s brand and program, and a coach who felt like the right fit sealed the deal for Joseph.
She was a Gator for five years, playing a mix of positions before settling into her natural position as a right side hitter. During her junior season with Florida she red-shirted for the team, a decision she said she was confused about, but ultimately trusted her coach to make. To make things worse, while she was playing on Canada’s national team during her fourth year at Florida she suffered a sprained ankle.
“(It) was just a mental battle with myself,” Joseph said, which then turned to personal battles with her career.
In her final year at Florida she kept improving and was named an All-American, which she called a “pretty cool accomplishment” for her senior year.
After graduating, she played for a stint in Bulgaria, played for Canada’s national team (which she’s in her sixth year as a member of) including at last year’s world championships in Japan, and also spent half of this past season in Taiwan.
From a sport she once reviled, volleyball has now shaped the bulk of Joseph’s adult life.
“Volleyball to me means discipline. It means being smart, it’s not just about being physical, it’s being smart and in your game and I think it’s also about a team sport,” Joseph said. “The biggest thing [for me] is all about the team sport aspect [and] how connected you have to be with those six on the court at every moment.”
Joseph also said that the sport has given her a number of opportunities such as an education and travel, but also to develop as a player and as person, become independent and have confidence.
“[It’s taught me] how to be resilient, how to deal with people [and] how to deal with people who don’t speak the same language [as you],” Joseph said.
According to Joseph, she is the only person in her family to play a sport at an elite level, but her family supports her and the sport has allowed them to better understand her dream and what it means to her.
When she spoke with the Sportspage in June, Joseph was unsure about whether she would be a member of Canada’s team to compete at next month’s Pan American Games in Peru, because of a similarly timed Olympic qualifier event being held in Russia.
To the former sixth-grade snub, simply qualifying for the world’s most prestigious sporting event isn’t enough.
“The ultimate goal is qualifying for the Olympics and going to the Olympics and being a podium team,” said Joseph, who most recently helped Team Canada to victories over Puerto Rico and Mexico at the May 31 to June 2 Women’s Challenge Cup near Montreal. “It’s also along that journey you want to be able to evolve your game and develop your game and become one of the top athletes in the world and along with that means getting good contracts, so you can evolve your game and be playing in the toughest and best leagues in the world and making a proper living as a professional athlete, that’s also the goal.”