Look up, way up. At six feet eight inches tall, volleyball heavy hitter Graham Vigrass towers over an average-sized Canadian man.
When asked if the height difference bothers him, the unassuming and soft-spoken 21-year-old shrugs. “The only time I notice is in the hallways when it’s busy and I see another player across the hall.”
Those are volleyball players for you, giants striding a foot or two above the mortals in the University of Calgary’s busy hallways.
But it takes more than height to play college volleyball and be named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Player of the Year. It takes skill, determination and a wicked kill shot.
It also takes a competitive spirit that Vigrass reveals in occasional side smiles when prodded about his humble volleyball beginnings. “I was trying to be better than my brother,” he explains. “He’s probably why I am the way I am.” Vigrass’s older brother Adam and older sister Andrea played volleyball in junior and senior high school. Vigrass would go to their games with his parents to watch his siblings play. Rounding out the family’s volleyball dynasty are Vigrass’s aunt and uncle who both played on the national team. His uncle owns Calgary’s Volleyball Dome.
Vigrass first started playing with a team in Grade 8 at school and continued playing with the club team, Canuck Jacked, right through high school until U of C head coach Rod Durrant recruited him for the Dinos.
While a physically imposing guy even then, Vigrass was intimidated by his future coach. “I didn’t know how good I was. I was afraid to say anything.” Luckily, his playing over the course of several days did the talking and he impressed Durrant and made the team.
“He’s very hard on himself,” Durrant admits. “Most kids at that age are very critical. He had one bad day, but the rest of the week was good.” Not only did Vigrass come across as extremely talented, but as a committed individual.
Four years later, Vigrass has become recognized as a powerful player at the university level and a champion. He’s helped his team to the CIS championship twice, taking home the Canadian Interuniversity Sport bronze in 2011. He’s even travelled the world as a member of Team Canada, scoring a silver medal at the NORCECA Championship in El Salvador and competing in the World Junior Championships in India in 2009. In April, Vigrass was named the 2010-2011 Dr. Dennis Kadatz men’s athlete of the year.
“He came in at 6-7 and 165 pounds and is now 6-8 and 180 pounds,” chuckles Durrant. “He’s just matured. He’s a tremendous leader on the court and a strong supporter of his teammates. He’s come a long ways from a 17-year-old to a 21-year-old.” In a word, he’s “dedicated.”
With just a year left before finishing his geography degree, Vigrass has set his sights on going pro.
Europe, Asia and South America all have professional volleyball leagues, but Vigrass’s top picks are France and Italy because they have the two strongest leagues and because Italy is a “sweet” country. Europe doesn’t seem much of a stretch for a volleyball player whose original intention was just to beat his brother.
And is Vigrass now a better volleyball player than his brother who affectionately nicknamed him Grammy as a kid? Vigrass gives his first unguarded smile in 30 minutes and doesn’t hesitate—“yes.”