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Duff's career taking off

Winnipegger a rising star with national volleyball team

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At 6-foot-7 with a 12-foot spike touch, Justin Duff can see everything happening on the volleyball court.

The main thing he's been seeing out there lately is his career taking flight.

A Winnipegger who has been starting for Canada's national men's team the past two weeks at the Pan Am Cup, the middle player's stellar performance at that event and at last winter's World Championship is grabbing the eye of Team Canada head coach Glenn Hoag. With the 2012 Olympics on the horizon, his timing could not be better.

"It was great that things have worked out for me to get a chance to get in here," said Duff, who helped Team Canada earn the bronze medal at the Pan Am Cup tournament in Gatineau, Que., with a 25-14, 25-20, 25-21 win over Puerto Rico. Brazil beat the U.S. in the championship match. At the worlds, a couple of injuries gave Duff the chance to jump into a starting role.

"I'm putting in a lot of work and I'm getting a lot of positive feedback. I know there's a long way to go but I'm just ready to start trekking."

In his fourth year in 2009-2010 with the University of Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball team, he was a first team all-Canadian, but he decided not to return.

Duff took a chance in July 2010, leaving everything familiar -- and it has paid off. He joined Team Canada's full-time training centre based in Gatineau and trained for several months. In February, he was offered a three-month contract to finish out the professional volleyball season in Vienna, Austria, with the Division I Vienna Hotvolleys.

"That name was special," laughed Duff, 23, who helped the Hotvolleys place third in the Austrian pro league. "It was a great experience, I had never lived overseas before and Austria is a beautiful country. Even on the plane ride there, I was just 'wow, this is where I'm going to be for the next few months, Austria.' I knew I wasn't going to see anyone I knew but it was a great opportunity."

Recently he accepted a two-year contract to play in Izmir, Turkey, for the upcoming pro season on a team coached by Hoag. It's a decent vote of confidence for Duff that Team Canada's coach wants him on his pro team.

"It's a really good league and I think I'm really lucky to be going. Our team plays in the Champions League, which is the top Cup in Europe, so, for development it's going to be excellent. I'm really looking forward to it," Duff said.

"Glenn is well respected in volleyball circles around the world. It's great to know that he sees a future in you. The amount of stuff I have already learned and can continue to learn from him, it's so good for my career and my future."

The Canadians will now train for the next week and take a break for the first two weeks of July, when Duff will come home to Winnipeg to see his family.

Then Team Canada will begin down the qualification road for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Next up is a European tour in August followed by the Sept. 3-11 NORCECA Continental Championship in Puerto Rico.

"I want to keep improving because I know I'm not at the top end yet and I know I can get there," said Duff, a graduate of Maples Collegiate. "I love travelling, I love what I'm doing and there's a chance to have a great career in this game. Every day is just full of purpose."

Canada's national team also includes setter Dustin Schneider, another former U of W player, who is recovering from an injury right now, as well as former University of Manitoba Bisons players Steve Brinkman and Dan Lewis.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2011 C4

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