Swede move for ex-Stang

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Mike Choja considers his next step in his volleyball career to be more than just an adventure in the game.

He’s looking at it as an adventure in life.

Choja, a five-year member of the Western Mustangs volleyball team and former Oakridge Oak, has signed to play professionally in Sweden. He’ll be joining Örkelljunga when the Swedish volleyball season begins in October.

This is a well-travelled route by Western volleyballers. Among former Mustang players who have played professionally in Sweden are Justin Scapinello and Eric Simon.

Choja was captain of the Mustangs the last two years of his tenure with the team.

“It’s great because you can kind of cross off a bunch of things at the same time,” Choja said. “You can play the sport at the highest level, which is a huge goal of mine. It’s always been a big dream. But you also have the ability to get over there and travel and see the world and do some things that I wouldn’t necessarily be privy to by staying here.”

The 24-year-old middle blocker has high hopes for not only improving his game but enriching his life experiences.

“I love the fact the league is accepting of Canadian athletes and we’re able to get over there and really explore the sport to its fullest potential,” Choja said. “The coach I’m working with right now (Jonas Svantesson) is very highly regarded in the Swedish league and is an ex-national team Swedish player and played the same position as me. It’s great for me to get over there and work with somebody who has seen the game at a very high level and is able to convey that knowledge. Luckily the language barrier is not there so there won’t be anything lost in translation.”

Choja is an Ontario university all-star and he was a member of the provincial volleyball team when he was 18. He still has hopes for playing the game internationally for his country but he’s just taking one step at a time.

“London’s done me very well as far as volleyball goes but I’m glad I can take the lessons that I’ve learned and apply them abroad,” he said. “As far as national teams goes, that’s definitely a goal of mine in the future but I think that we’ll see what happens; we’ll see where my body is at, come the end of the season and kind of where a couple of different variables are.”

Professional volleyball in Europe is highly popular. The leagues are set up much like soccer leagues including tournament-like Cup games. Choja will be playing two games a week with practice on the other days. His team plays a league game and then a game a week in the Scandinavian Cup.

“Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland will be competing,” he said. “That will give me an opportunity to travel within those couple of countries and play some teams that are outside our league and hopefully see some other guys and explore how the games are played overseas.

“I’m looking for the opportunity to grow both as an athlete and to really see what’s it’s all going to be like. It’s going to be a great experience is what I’m hoping for.”

That’s why Choja opts to go with only one-year contracts.

“I don’t sign more than one-year contracts,” he said. “It gives me a chance to explore not only where I am as an athlete but where I’m at in my life goals. I can also explore different leagues to see how volleyball is played abroad. So maybe next season I can go to, who knows, Germany or wherever plans take me. It’s nice because it doesn’t lock me down.”

He’s also not done academically. He’s eventually going to return to teacher’s college whenever he’s done playing the game.

“The plan is to wrap up the playing career in whatever time it takes, go to teacher’s college and head into the big boy world,” Choja says.

Whatever happens, he’s done a lot of things he never thought he would.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Choja said,” . . . walking into the first day in Grade 9 in Oakridge I never really thought this would be an option of mine but to see it all unfold it’s pretty cool and I can’t wait to see what happens next.” 

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