Even as one of the most highly-touted high school players in B.C., Nate Speijer insists he had no idea he might one day have a chance to wear his country’s colours in international competition.
Four years later, the UBC Okanagan Heat veteran is firmly on the radar of the national men’s volleyball program.
Thanks to his performance at a selection camp earlier this month in Gatineau, Que., Speijer, 21, was one of 22 players named to Canada’s national senior men’s B team.
For the next two weeks, the Penticton product and Heat outside hitter will be training in Gatineau with many of the top players from around the country.
“I really didn’t think I was going to make the team, there were some older guys there who really knew the game and a lot of them had been training towards this since September,” said Speijer. “I was surprised and excited, and now I’m going to try make the best of it.”
In his fourth season with the Heat—and first in the CIS—in 2011-12, Speijer proved he could push his game to a whole new level by finishing third in the Canada West conference in kills. He was also named a Canada West all-star.
Over the next month or so with the national program, the 6-foot-4 Speijer expects his game to take another considerable step forward.
“I can already feel myself maturing as a volleyball player, I’m understanding the relevance of all the situations on the court and it’s helping me grow exponentially,” said Speijer. “When you take reps with the best players in the country, your skills have to increase. Every touch of the ball has a sense of urgency to it.
“It’s an honour for me to be here,” he added, “and Im going to try get the most out of it I can.”
At the end of the camp, the national program will choose 12 players from the B squad to attend the Pan American Cup July 7 to 15 in the Dominican Republic.
“I’d love to make the trip, that would be an amazing experience,” said Speijer, whose older brother Ryan is a former member of the national junior team. “If not, I know I’ll have learned so much more by then.”
Heat coach Greg Poitras, who recruited him out of Pen-Hi in 2008, isn’t surprised that Speijer has grabbed the attention of the national team.
Still, Poitras said Speijer’s success isn’t simply a result of raw talent and ability.
“(Being with the national team) isn’t something that just happened for Nate,” Poitras said. “He’s had to work very hard, I’d say there’s no player on our team who’s worked harder than him the last few years. He’s talented, for sure, but he deserves every bit of recognition he’s received because of his hard work. I expect him to do well and come back to us in the fall an even better player.”
Speijer’s long-term plan is to eventually make the step up to the Canadian men’s A team and to play professionally once his five-year career with the Heat comes to an end next season.
And while it’s a long way off, the big picture dream would be to play for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“One of the coaches was speculating that a lot of the guys on the B team are at the age where they’ll be part of the plan for the 2016 games,” said Speijer. “I’d be 25 by then. That would be a dream come true.”