Beautiful scenery surrounds the area where Doug Groenendijk spent time in Austria. This is just outside Graz on a mountain called Schöckl. (Photo submitted)

Pro volleyball stint in Austria an amazing experience for Vancouver Islander

Player’s time cut short by COVID-19 but not before enjoying many friendships and memories

Vancouver Island’s Groenendijk siblings are not only making the family well-known around their hometown of Chemainus, but other parts of the world as well.

Doug Groenendijk, a Duncan Christian School graduate, recently returned home after spending time playing professional volleyball in Austria.

After completing his varsity career at Vancouver Island University in 2019 and finishing with a gold medal at provincials and then a national bronze, “I felt I wasn’t quite done with volleyball yet,” he noted. “I wanted to complete my goal of playing volleyball at the professional level.”

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He contacted some friends who had played or were currently still playing as professionals and they gave him some tips for making that a reality.

“I put together a highlight reel and a volleyball CV and then started contacting different volleyball agencies from around the world,” Groenendijk explained. “I selected an agency and within three weeks I had multiple offers to play in different countries such as Germany, Israel and Austria.”

It was a nice problem to have all of a sudden and he ended up signing with a club from Austria called TLC VBC Weiz that plays in the top division there.

Groenendijk left Canada in late August last year to begin preseason training. The regular season started in October and concluded in mid-February.

“Then the Coronavirus situation happened and my season was cancelled early as we were part way through playoffs,” Groenendijk indicated. “Originally I had planned on travelling after my season, but with all the travel restrictions I decided to get home as soon as possible.”

He returned in mid-March and then had to self-isolate for two weeks. Ironically, he came back the day before his parents and grandparents returned from watching his sister Danielle playing in the nationals for VIU at Quebec where she was part of the team’s third straight Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women’s national championship.

Despite the abrupt end to his stay in Europe, Doug noted it was an amazing experience being in a foreign country.

“Luckily for me, I was living in Graz, which is similar in size as Victoria and was full of university students,” he pointed out. “Fortunately, I lived in a student dormitory and got to meet people from all around the world and made many Austrian friends through my teammates.

“One of the biggest differences between playing as a professional rather then a student athlete was that I got to focus and enjoy the sport so much more because I didn’t have to worry about school work and what not. That being said, I had to train and play like a pro which was also interesting. I had lots of free time so I found a part-time job as an English teacher (Native English Speaker) and had a great time teaching the younger kids.”

RELATED: VIU Mariners add provincial championship to undefeated season

Being one of just three international players, Groenendijk was part of his team’s starting lineup as a middle blocker. He found it was a different feeling playing at the pro level knowing that was his job and he was getting paid to play the sport he loves.

There were many highlights while abroad for him such as hiking in the Alps, making lifelong friendships, winning the provincial derby game in five sets (champs of Styria), weekend trips to various places throughout Europe, and spending the Christmas break in Israel/Jordan.

“Currently, I am looking for another contract to go back and play in Austria or elsewhere in Europe but I will wait and see which opportunities will present themselves over the summer,” Groenendijk noted.

He felt the many years spent playing volleyball prepared him well for the professional experience, beginning at the high school level for DCS that was a great introduction to the sport.

Groenendijk elaborated his confidence grew and abilities developed over the years by playing on youth club teams, provincial teams and then two different universities.

“With each or these different steps I fine-tuned my skills, teammates got better, and my understanding of the sport did as well,” he enthused. “With all this practice and many years of playing it helped prepare me to play as a pro.”

Meanwhile, sister Danielle — also a DCS alumna, was recently honoured with a PACWEST Academic Excellence Award.

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Chemainus’ Doug Groenendijk in uniform with the TLC VBC Weiz professional team of Austria. (Photo submitted)

Doug Groenendijk with mom Henrietta and dad Chris. Local volleyball star played pro in Austria before the outbreak of COVID-19.

Sign at the Slovenian and Austrian border. Doug Groenendijk and his pro volleyball team had some exhibition games in Slovenia. (Photo submitted)

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