Risso elevates game to national level

UBC Okanagan libero trains with Canadian junior men's volleyball program in Gatineau, Que.

KSS grad and Heat rookie of the year Eli Risso is training this summer with Canada's national junior men's volleyball team.

As it turns out, rejection only made Eli Risso that much more determined to succeed.

Three years after the abject disappointment of being cut from B.C.’s U18 volleyball squad, the 18-year-old from Kelowna has established himself as one the country’s top, up-and-coming young prospects.

Risso was named earlier this month to Volleyball Canada’s junior men’s team and is currently training with the national program in Gatineau, Que.

For Risso, there was nothing more motivating that being told he didn’t measure up on a volleyball court.

“It really stung, I’d never felt that way and it left a sour taste in my mouth,” said Risso, a KSS grad. “I thought I deserved to make that team and didn’t like the feeling of not being able to play and be with my friends.

“So at that point, I told my parents that volleyball was what I wanted to do more than anything else, and they supported me. It’s what I wanted to do.”

And nothing had stood in the way of Risso’s goals since.

The son of former CIS all-star and professional player Dave Risso, Eli went on to star for three seasons with the Kelowna Owls, helping guide his high school team to a provincial bronze medal each time.

Risso then moved up to the Canada West level last fall to play for UBC Okanagan and was an immediate fit with the Heat.

Switching positions to libero, Risso made a seamless adjustment and went on to earn Canada West all-rookie team honours, and was also tabbed as UBC Okanagan’s top rookie across all sports.

Heat head coach Greg Poitras said Risso’s selection to the national junior squad is well-deserved.

“This has been a goal of his since last fall when he joined the Heat program,” said Poitras. “He spent several post-season hours in the gym in preparation for the selection camp as he wanted to give himself the best chance to make the squad.

“Considering Eli had been mostly a setter leading up to post-secondary shows his ability and versatility, even at the CIS and now international level.”

While good, old-fashioned hard work and determination—not to mention bloodlines—have been vital, Risso credits much of his success to an extensive list of coaches, as well as teammates and friends over the years who have all had a positive effect on “who I am today, not just on the court but off it, too.”

As for his first major exposure to Canada’s national program, Risso plans to enjoy the ride and make the most of the opportunity.

“It’s a really big part of the process for me and the next step in what I really want to accomplish in volleyball,” Risso said. “Training for a month at the highest level with players my age, I couldn’t ask for any more than that.

“Down the road, I definitely want to play with the national (senior men’s) team and maybe play professional,” he added. “It’s my dream.”

Risso will continue to train with the national junior team, leading up to the U21 NORCECA Continental Championship, July 5 to 10 in Gatineau. Canada will be joined by eight other countries, including the U.S., Mexico and Cuba.