Coming from small towns in northwestern Ontario, Bison volleyball players Kevin Negus and Grant Legaree each blazed their own trail to the University of Manitoba.
Legaree, hailing from Atikokan, Ont., a town of just over 2,700 people nearly six hours east of Winnipeg, was offered a spot after practicing with the Bisons in his first year.
“I hadn’t really touched a volleyball for a couple weeks and I felt so rusty and these guys are swinging the ball harder than anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I felt pretty out of my league at first but I’m getting there.”
Legaree said he has had to make a few adjustments since coming up to the U of M, like getting used to the speed of game and balancing athletics and the school aspect.
A big difference between Winnipeg and Atikokan is stoplights.
“The city [was] a big change for me. I didn’t have any stop lights on my streets growing up so the driving is a lot scarier, it’s an adjustment for sure,” Legaree said.
Despite not playing much competitive volleyball in high school, Legaree said his coach – who also happens to be his brother-in-law – tried to get as many opportunities to play against top competition as possible. During his first year last season, when the Bisons were one of the top teams in the country, it was a wild ride, even from the bench.
“It was still a crazy experience,” he said. “I’m from Atikokan, I didn’t really have a lot of club volleyball experience – or any club volleyball experience – so this is by far the biggest thing in terms of volleyball that I’ve been a part of it. I’d be on the bench and I’d be getting goosebumps. It was pretty fun to be a part of.”
A few hours west of Legaree is the Negus’ hometown of Sioux Lookout, Ont. Negus came to the U of M after a surprising email from Bison head coach Garth Pischke.
“I had my heart set on going to Southern Ontario for volleyball, pretty much all my family is from down there,” Negus said.
“I had an offer from Guelph, actually, I had an offer from Regina and I hadn’t considered going to [Manitoba] at all really when I got the email from Garth and coming to check out the school kind of not having any expectations and I ended up really liking it here and signed here.”
Both Legaree and Negus have an affinity for the outdoors and enjoy hunting and fishing. Northwestern Ontario is renowned for its world-class fishing.
“I loved growing up in Atikokan,” Legaree said. “Some people say there’s not a lot to do but I think if you really look you can find things to do.”
Growing up in a town of nearly 3000 people, Negus said he didn’t play a lot of sports, just because of the limited opportunities in a smaller town like Sioux Lookout.
“I didn’t really play a whole lot of sports when I was younger just because there wasn’t really anything to do,” he said.
“I loved running track and field because you obviously don’t need equipment for it. I played a bit of soccer, but other than that all my friends had played baseball and football and stuff when they were growing up and I didn’t really have those opportunities. It was fun though, I spent a lot of time outside because there’s not a whole lot of rec centres and stuff to go to when you’re younger.”
Negus also played high school volleyball, but started much later than his teammate Legaree. Legaree started playing in Grade 7, Negus picked up the sport in his grade ten year.
“I think back when I was in Grade 10 I was five-foot-four and probably like 70, 80 pounds less than what I do now, so I didn’t have any expectations to make the team and I did though [and] ended up getting a little bit better every year,” Negus said.
Ending up at Manitoba was a nice touch for Negus, as he is relatively close to home and playing for the one of the best volleyball programs in Canada.
“It’s pretty special coming from a small town and being on such a good team with such a history of winning and everything,” he said.
“It’s close to home. I wasn’t too worried about going too far but the fact that I can still drive home if I need to, that’s nice. From what I’ve heard about U of M, having such a winning record from so long and how experienced Garth was it was a pretty easy choice.”