For the love of the game

Cassie Bujan was in Grade 5 when she fell in love for the first time.

It was the first time she tried volleyball and her love of the sport has carried her all the way through a five-year career with the U of M Bisons.

The 22-year-old’s first sport was soccer, but while in elementary school she was first exposed to volleyball. In Grade 8, she dropped soccer to pursue volleyball more seriously.

“Soccer was so repetitive,” said Bujan. “Once I found volleyball, it was so different, and I found the want to go to practice, which is a huge thing.”

When Bujan arrived at the U of M she began to play at left side, but found herself moved to libero soon after — the position she still plays to this day.

“I was always the shortest, I was always good at defence and passing — that’s pretty much how I found my position on the court as a left side,” said Bujan.

“I got surpassed as a left side and so our coach wanted me still on the court because of my back-row skills.”

Bujan enjoyed playing left side, but knew her skills were better suited for the libero position. The libero plays in the back row, roaming around the floor to keep the ball from being scored by opponents.

Bujan’s mobility made her perfect for the role.

“It was always something I was better at than hitting and blocking for sure,” said Bujan.

“Obviously, it was a change with no hitting and blocking — because of course I miss that — but the back-row aspect of it I found kind of my calling, like that’s what I’m good at.”

Although Bujan is happy to be playing libero now, the transition was not easy.

She admitted libero is an oft-overlooked position in the world of volleyball and this did not sit well with her.

“That’s why I didn’t want to transfer to it,” said Bujan.

“I like getting the big kill and stuff, but at this point in my career my purpose is to make the others look good and keep the ball off the floor, which is the number one rule in this sport.”

Bujan leads Canada West in digs this season and continues to climb up the all-time digs leaderboard. For this she credits the coaching and teammates she has had along the way.

“I’ve just learned through our coaching and through other past players on how to move,” said Bujan.

“One of our past coaches pretty much told me ‘You should never be standing still’ and I kind of abide by that […] I’m constantly moving, my feet are moving, and I feel like that has helped me huge.”

Bujan took this advice to heart, and can often be found sprawled across the floor to keep the ball in play.

“I personally — and our team, I think — has realized how big of a position [libero] is and can be,” said Bujan.

“It’s definitely a position that’s overlooked by the power behind some of the girls that play at our level.”

Bujan said many people have helped her get to where she is today, but one former teammate will have a lasting impact on her.

“Since my first year, I had Caleigh Dobie ahead of me and obviously I learned so much from her,” Bujan said.

Not only did Bujan learn from Dobie, but two of Bujan’s best memories as a Bison involve her.

In Bujan’s rookie season — the first time she shared a court with Dobie — the two were involved in a nasty collision.

She said they “cracked heads and pretty much she was out.

“She was looking at the ceiling, looking at stars and then I had to change my jersey [to play libero] for the rest of the game.”

In Bujan’s third-year, she shared the court with Dobie one last time.

By then Bujan had made the full-time switch to libero and the Bisons played a two-libero system all season. The day of the game Bujan was told she would not be in the lineup.

Then Dobie stepped in.

“I was totally fine. It’s her last game ever as a Bison, we weren’t making playoffs […] and then she came in and said that I was going to be dressing with her, that she wanted to end the way that we started,” said Bujan.

Whenever Bujan thinks about her time at the University of Manitoba, Dobie is the one person who consistently stands out in her mind.

“It’s always been her,” said Bujan. “All my memories are pretty much what she’s taught me from start to finish.”