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This article was published 6/7/2018 (1460 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Three local volleyball players are getting set to team up and take their talents to Germany.
Former University of Manitoba Bisons Luke Herr and Ken Rooney, as well as former University of Winnipeg Wesmen Casey Schouten, have signed with the Netzhoppers, a team that plays in the highest division in German volleyball — the Bundesliga. The trio of 24-year-olds wrapped up their university careers in 2017 and are entering their second seasons as professional players.
Herr, a 6-4 setter, returns to the Netzhoppers for a second season. In his rookie year as a pro, he was the starting setter for the club. Rooney, a 6-8 middle, spent his first professional season playing in Sweden while Schouten, a 6-5 right-side hitter, had his first taste of the pro game last year in Finland.
The Netzhoppers were in need of a middle and a right side for the upcoming season, and the club noticed Rooney and Schouten. Herr also put in a good word for the pair. Herr was the lone Canadian on the team last year, and said this time around it will be nice to set for some familiar faces.
"It’s pretty sweet, because we get to show them that Canada can also play volleyball," Herr said on what it means to have fellow Winnipeggers on the team. "It puts us on the map and shows them what we’ve got here in Canada, too. (The Netzhoppers) didn’t really know much about Canadians because I was one of the first Canadians to ever play on this team, so they really didn’t know what to expect when they were getting me last year."
Herr clearly made a strong impression, as the club went searching for more Canadians for this year’s roster. Herr said he really enjoyed the experience in Germany last season, but the competition is "insane," as the teams are "much bigger and stronger" and filled with national team players.
"I literally had no clue what to expect," Herr said of his rookie season with the Netzhoppers. "I didn’t know if they were going to speak English, accept me as a foreigner, or if they would blame me for everything if things went wrong. But I went out there and the management was unreal. They accepted me and were all really nice and supportive of me coming to a new country to play volleyball."
Rooney said the Bundesliga will be a step up in competition from the Swedish league he played in last year. He said he’s most proud of how far he’s come as a player. When he started out as a 16-year old playing for the 204 Volleyball Club in Winnipeg, playing professionally did not seem like something that could become a reality.
"Seeing how far I’ve come is pretty cool. Some of my coaches would say when I was 16, I definitely wasn’t a very good player. I was very average at best," said Rooney, who was the captain of the Bisons from 2014-17. "I think it’s good for kids to see that putting in the work and staying with the right people that you can go somewhere."
Herr and Rooney have played together for a total of seven years, going all the way back to their club volleyball days before they teamed up at the U of M. Neither one thought they would get a chance to play competitive volleyball together again after their university careers, but they’re both extremely excited about the opportunity.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun," Rooney said. "Usually when you go to a pro team, you’re playing with everyone for the first time and getting that connection with your setter at first is tough. I think it will be a big benefit to our team that we’ve played together and that connection is already there."
However, it will be first time Rooney or Herr will play on the same side of the net as Schouten, as they spent five years playing against each other in the intense Bisons-Wesmen rivalry.
"They’re both great guys," Schouten said. "We played against each other the whole way growing up, but have never played with each other, so I’m pretty excited about that. Obviously, it just makes the transition of moving to Europe way easier. I’m looking forward to our on-court relationship and building something with fellow Winnipeggers."
The trio will travel to Germany to begin training with the Netzhoppers in August, with the regular season kicking off in October.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...