Aaliyah Masepela didn’t grow up dreaming about playing university volleyball. It wasn’t even something she considered a possibility until she was in Grade 10.
But with some natural talent, a lot of hard work, and steadfast support from her coaches and family, the Sisler High School student is set to join the University of Winnipeg Wesmen next fall.
"It was really exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time," the West Kildonan resident said of signing her letter of intent with the U of W.
Masepela played recreational volleyball in junior high, and didn’t even join a club team — the Mavericks — until she was in Grade 9.
That opened her eyes to the more serious side of the game, and exposed her to a higher level of play — a level at which she could soon hold her own.
"My coach said I had a lot of potential, and said I could become great," said the middle blocker. "I had a lot of trouble in my second year of club, and I didn’t play as much, but at the end of the year he said if I kept on trying my hardest I could become a better player."
The biggest challenge for Masepela at first was competing with players who had many years of club experience. Her confidence was low and she didn’t truly believe how good she could be.
"A lot of girls were a lot better and I didn’t think I could be as good as they were," she said.
From the start of her Grade 11 year until now, her high school coach, Kyle Friesen, has seen a major transformation in Masepela.
"In Grade 11 she was definitely a strong player," he said. "But this year, she excelled and was dominant. Her play at the net, her blocking, her attacks… she’s one of the biggest players out there."
The trick now will be translating that dominance to a new level, where all the players were high school stars at one time. Friesen thinks that’s certainly possible, given Masepela’s work ethic.
"She has the potential," he said. "It’s just seeing how well she can adapt to the quickness of the game. She’ll continue to work hard. She has that mentality."
Masepela said her focus for the upcoming club season will be to improve her consistency and her mental game. She isn’t sure what sort of role coach Diane Scott will have for her in her rookie season, but she’s ready to take it on.
"Playing time should be earned and not just given out," she said. "I know I won’t get as much playing time as I’m used to, but the first year I’m going to learn a lot."
Masepela acknowledges her story could be an inspirational one for girls who find themselves developing into elite athletes later in their adolescence. She wants them to know that it’s never too late to dream big.
"I would say don’t ever count it out," she said. "There’s always a lot of time to improve. I’m still improving myself."