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Acadia volleyball welcomes Vanessa Chorkawy as assistant coach

Vanessa Chorkawy is the new assistant coach for the Axewomen's volleyball squad.
Vanessa Chorkawy is the new assistant coach for the Axewomen's volleyball squad. - Contributed

WOLFVILLE, N.S. - There will be an unfamiliar presence on the bench for the volleyball Axewomen this season, but Vanessa Chorkawy is by no means unfamiliar with the sport of volleyball.

“I'm really excited to have her here,” Axewomen head coach Michelle Wood says of Chorkawy, who will be contributing to the daily operations and training Acadia’s women's volleyball as an assistant coach.

Surprisingly, Wood and Chorkawy had had “no prior relationship with each other, with the exception of playing across the net from one another.” Chorkawy attended a symposium on Women and Girls in Leadership and Sport this past spring. The event was held by the Ontario Volleyball Association, where Wood was asked to present.

Chorkawy, who had been coaching club volleyball in Sudbury, approached Wood after her presentation.

“I asked her if I could come to Acadia and observe training and then sit on the bench. I was thinking it would be a 'one-off' thing, a chance for me to gain more experience,” she recalled.

Wood ended up having different ideas.

“Vanessa told me she was interested in coaching long-term. It turned out we had 90 girls register for our summer volleyball camp,” she said.  

At Wood's invitation, Chorkawy coached at the camp. Wood also thought there might be an opening as an assistant coach.

“I gave her some time to think about it. She was excited about coming here, and it's just spiraled from there.”

All-star player

After speaking to some of the other programs who have coaches in similar support roles, the details of Vanessa’s responsibilities were worked out, and Chorkawy is now in Wolfville. Wood is excited to have someone of her background and experience by her side on the Axewomen bench.

A native of Lively, Ont., Chorkawy played four years of varsity volleyball at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, during which time she was a conference all-star outside hitter.

She trained with the national Senior 'B' program, and also played professionally in Europe.

Chorkawy, began playing volleyball in elementary school.

“Club volleyball didn't exist in our region at that time,” she said. 

She was recruited to Lakehead, and played there for four seasons.

“Actually, I still have a year of eligibility left. When I was here this summer, it felt like a recruiting trip,” she said.

Between her third and fourth years, she took time off and joined Volleyball Canada's national training centre, then located in Winnipeg.

“It was completely a training cycle. That summer, I made the Senior 'B' national roster. Because it wasn't an Olympic year, I got to spend a lot of time just training.”

After graduation, she went overseas and played professionally in Sweden and the Czech Republic.

“Luckily, I had traveled a lot in high school. I had been to Europe before, so it wasn't much of a culture shock, but in terms of the volleyball, it was a whole new experience.”

Two years at pro level

She ended up playing pro for two years.

“My fiance was teaching overseas, and we decided to move back to Canada and start the next phase of our lives.” They are planning to marry next summer.

Meanwhile, she returned to Sudbury and took a position as an assistant coach with the Northern Chill club program – a rival program to the one she had been part of as a club player.

“I had played against them, and it was kind of different to get to coach them.”

The opportunity came out of the blue.

“When I first came back, I was planning to go back to school and do grad studies. They called me up and offered me a coaching position. I wasn't even considering coaching. It was a completely new side of the sport for me.”

She began coaching in 2015.

“It was a steep learning curve. I started out as an assistant coach at the 15-U level. I saw it as a way to give something back to the sport, and in my hometown besides. It didn't take me long to become fully immersed,” she said.

“My goal was to learn that side of the game. I was looking for a way to stay in the sport. I had no real goals. By my second season, I knew coaching was something I wanted to pursue long-term. I was taking a second degree at Laurentian, so coaching in Sudbury was a good fit for me.”

The 2017-18 season was her first as a head coach with the Northern Chill. “I was starting to develop a connection with the athletes.” Then, “on a whim, I signed up for the Women and Girls in Leadership and Sport symposium in Toronto and met Michelle, who was running one of the individual sessions I could sign up for.”

Chorkawy “knew Acadia existed,” but had never even visited Acadia or Wolfville. She agreed to come and help out with the summer volleyball camp, and was impressed by the number of players that turned out.

Wood, she says, “places a lot of value on women in leadership roles, and giving young girls the opportunity to be leaders. Although we've taken different paths to get where we are, I can see a lot of similarities through the conversations we've had.”

Exciting time to be at Acadia

Chorkawy sees her new position as an opportunity to face new challenges and grow in the process.

Wood says she wants to prepare Chorkawy to be a head coach someday.

With Acadia coming off an appearance in the conference final, it’s an exciting time to join the Axewomen.

“I'm learning the ins and outs of coaching at the university level, and all it entails. It's a lot more than just games and practices.”

So far, she said she is seeing a committed group of athletes “with a lot of focus and drive and great character.”

“They're all strong people, and each one brings important things to the team,” she added.  

The Axewomen, she believes, are “definitely a team that can contend,” and build on last season's successes.

Chorkawy is committed to Acadia for the 2018-19 season. If things can be worked out, she would like to stay at Acadia for the 2019-20 season - and beyond.

“From the minute I arrived here, I've felt embraced by the community. My fiance is a teacher, and he plans to come here after Thanksgiving and put his name on the substitute list. We both love it here,” she said.

“It's maybe not the direction I thought I'd be taking, but I'm really excited to be on this side of the game, which allows me to stay involved with the sport. I've never had a female head coach. I can see a shift taking place, and it's nice to be able to be part of this next step.”

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