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Peck takes advantage of college volleyball

In Australia, there is no college or university volleyball.

It's straight to club programs, the national team or to Europe to play professionally, which are all tough paths to take coming out of high school.

Matt Peck, however, is taking advantage of what his coach back home envisioned as an alternative for high school players after they graduated, as he wanted to send players overseas to play college volleyball in Canada, before going to the professionally leagues in Europe or back home to play with the national team.

After spending six months training and sending over 50 emails to coaches across Canada with a video of himself playing, one to Lakeland Rustlers head coach Taylor Dyer, Peck became a member of the men's volleyball team and has turned into the starting libero, an instant upgrade to the Rustlers defensive game.

“I got a few offers but Taylor's offer was the best,” said Peck. “It just looked like it was going to work. I was going to get the starting position right away, which helped.”

Peck was a member of the youth and junior national sqauds in Australia, so he was on the pathway to the national team. But he decided to come to Canada and play college volleyball, rather than taking off to Europe to play professionally, getting his education first, rather than trying to make it in Europe alone, paying his own way on a limited salary from being a contracted professionally volleyball player.

“This is a much better way of going about it,” said Peck. “I can play with people my own age where I'm pretty comfortable and then try and work my way up from there.”

A minimum contract would have paid him $15,000, which in Europe would not be a lot of money in order to live, so Peck would have to juggle a regular job with his volleyball commitments.

Now as a Rustlers, the focus is on school and helping to lead the Lakeland men's team, while still keeping an eye on a feature in the professionally ranks and national team.

A striking difference between Australia and Canada in volleyball is the size, as back home, Peck was the shortest player out of 60 at the national junior camps, as Australia takes athletes and turns them into volleyball players, which means 6-foot-10 players with no volleyball experience but show athletic ability are taught how to play the game.

Canada has more naturally skilled players according to Peck, who can be shorter but can jump high and play really well. It's more a more physical game back home, whereas in the ACAC, it's more skilled.

But the biggest challenge coming overseas, despite the cold temperatures of December and snow, turned out to to be the ball itself.

“The new ball was terrible to start, I absolutely hated it,” said Peck. “I spent six years playing with the Mikasa and now I have to come here and play with the Molten. So the first three months I was embarrassingly bad with the new ball, especially since it's all that first touch on serve as the libero. That was really challenging, but after that, everyone was really welcoming and helped me out a lot.”

With 96 digs through his first 14 games, Peck is fourth overall in the conference at the break, and sixth overall in digs per set with 2.34.

Across the league, international players are becoming more common, as volleyball is a higher ranking sport outside of Canada, and by the end of the season, the teams with the best international flavour are generally competing for a ACAC championship.

“Matt has been a definite standout for us,” said Dyer. “His training back home was quite intense. He went to a volleyball academy. I would definitely say he is not like most freshmen that you would bring into a program like this. He's trained with high level athletes his entire youth, really good coaching back home and the training is quite intense and in-depth. He brings a higher skill set to our team and demands that from the rest of our group.”

Melbourne, his hometown, definitely doesn't have the temperatures Lloydminster has, and the sports are different as well, as Australians play cricket rather than hockey, a sport he has never played before. With it being summer in Australia, temperatures are over 30 degrees, and Peck said he has never experienced below zero degree weather.

But that's the sacrifice he made to keep his volleyball dreams alive, as he hopes to help bring Lakeland their first men's volleyball championship and continue making volleyball his future.

“I'm doing a two year business diploma, so that's a short term goal and we'll reevaluate then,” said Peck. “I'm more than happy to get a degree here and stay here for five years. That's really appealing to me.”

By Andrew Brethauer

Posted:  January 4, 2017

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