You could probably say that Jason DeRocco was born to play volleyball.
His parents, Valerie and Stelio, both played professionally in Italy and were members of the Canadian national teams. They met at an international tournament in Cuba, and more than two decades later their son is making his living in the second division of the French professional league.
But DeRocco didn’t grow up dreaming of playing the sport that was in his blood. First and foremost, he was a hockey player.
"I always had the ambition and goal to become a pro athlete," said DeRocco, who grew up in Rivergrove before the family moved to East St. Paul. "But hockey was my No. 1 sport for a long while. My parents never pushed volleyball too hard, but around Grade 9 I started getting tall and skinny and I started noticing I wasn’t strong enough for hockey."
That’s when volleyball took over. DeRocco fell in love with the game, and absorbed everything his parents — his dad was the coach of the Canadian men’s national team — had to share.
Success on the court has followed DeRocco everywhere he’s been, from his hometown to the other side of the Atlantic.
His Grade 12 season at Miles Macdonell Collegiate saw the Buckeyes win 63 games in a row before losing in the provincial final. He went on to win a national college championship at
Mount Royal College in his first year, and then transferred to the University of Alberta, where he joined his brother Michael and won a national university title the next year.
Throw in two national club championships and two national beach titles, and DeRocco’s resume starts to get awfully impressive.
Most recently, his current club, Saint-Nazaire Volley-Ball Atlantique, clinched the league title, earning a spot in the top division next season.
After one season in Greece and another in France, the 23-year-old left side is getting used to the professional lifestyle.
"Comparing against hockey or basketball it’s not as glamorous," he said, "but the same professionalism is used. We train hard, hit the weights, go home and make sure we have good rest, and then train again. It’s a living that’s tough, but also can be very relaxing."
DeRocco doesn’t know if he’ll be back with the Atlantique next season, as both sides have an option to renew the contract. The French top division is one of the best in the world, but his ultimate goal is to play in Italy, Poland or Russia, the world’s top three leagues.
But before that, he’ll be vying for a spot on the national team this summer. With a few spots opening up for power hitters, he thinks this could be his chance to play for Team Canada.
"That’s something I’m really striving for," DeRocco said. "I’ve been working hard at my weaknesses, trying to improve my game in order to play at that level. This will be a big test for me."