Keyano Huskies Men's Volleyball Blazej Pellowski

Photo by Erwin Kuhr
Photo by Erwin Kuhr

by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips

Despite the fact that his hometown of Wroclaw, Poland is roughly 350-kilmoetres from the Baltic Sea, Blazej Pellowski loves beach volleyball.

Such is his passion, that the fifth-year Keyano Huskies student/athlete says his "biggest dream" would be "starting a beach volleyball academy here in Fort McMurray."

Pellowski, a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) All Canadian selection in 2015-2016 and two-time Alberta Colleges Athletic Association (ACAC) All Conference honouree 2015-2017, has been a beach volleyball aficionado since the age of 15.

"Every summer my parents would vacation somewhere in Europe and they would ask if I wanted to come along with them, but I said "No" as I wanted to stay home and play beach volleyball," reminisce Pellowski, a 6-foot-4 right side, now into his fifth and final year at the northern Alberta school as part of the Keyano Huskies men's volleyball squad..

"Beach volleyball was the sport that I truly loved. Courts were everywhere in every city. For example, in my city there were seven beach courts. Sometimes around schools, sometimes around swimming pools and sometimes around lakes."

Such was his process in the two-man sport, that along with teammate Matusz Bury, they won city and provincial championships during his Grade 12 year.

From fun in the sun, we return to his cool dream.

Photo by Erwin Kuhr

"For McMurray is a cold place and I know that (beach volleyball) would bring a little sun to the city. Obviously, you couldn't play year round, so you would have a sand court inside a facility. I would coach and manage the facility."

Since arriving in Fort McMurray, Pellowski has brought his own little bit of sun to the men's volleyball program.

In his first year 2013-2014, the team was 6-12 and slowly rose up the ACAC ladder with 12-12, 2014-2015; 19-5, 2015-2016 and 22-2 last year.

Provincial ACAC medals have come their way, with silver in 2015-2016 and a bronze medal last year losing to the Medicine Hat Rattlers.

It was in the fall of 2013 that Pellowski along with fellow Polish athlete, Kornel Kowalewski, made the trek to Canada.

"I did not know Kornel personally," recalls Pellowski, of the 6-foot-8 middle who would play two years for the Huskies before relocating to Edmonton to join U Sports with MacEwan University Griffins. "We took a train to Kornel's hometown (Poznan, Poland) and than a train to Frankfurt (Germany) and then we flew to Vancouver. It was my first flight ever.

"During the flight, we talked about how we were going to live and about Fort McMurray. We did not know that Fort McMurray would be this cold. It was my first flight, so it was pretty exciting. It was a big step for me as I had never left home.

"My first meal in Canada was at the Vancouver airport and it was a triple burger at Wendy's. Still to this day I still laugh. I had never seen a triple burger. That was something."

A new country. A new language, "My English was very bad. I was really shy and I didn't want to speak with people. Now it is different and I am more open."

The story on the volleyball court was different though, as we was an instant hit,

In his rookie season he recorded 125 kills and a team high 18 service aces in 65 sets. That same year another Polish athlete, Alex Andryszewski, would join the Huskies.

Andryszewski has played on the international beach volleyball scene.

The next two seasons he would record a total 599 kills and 76 services aces during the regular season.

Injuries relegated Pellowski to 52 sets last season but he still managed 168 kills and an impressive 28 aces.

Polish teammate Jakub Zdybek led the ACAC North with 47 service aces.

To date, Pellowski has totaled 140 kills which is good enough for the No. 2 spot on ACAC Career Service Aces.

The No. 3 spot is held by former Keyano Huskies' Matt Powell at 112.

Not a Jack, Queen or King but Ace, was held high in the deck of cards by two-time CCAA Men's Volleyball Player of the Year Alwyn Piche as the former Keyano Huskies sits at No. 1 with 176 floor burners in 276 sets.

With 12 matches remaining in the second half of the 2017-2018 ACAC men's volleyball regular season and the Huskies (11 matches won 1 match lost 33 sets won 9 sets lost) averaging 3.5 sets per match, that leaves around 42-45 sets in which Pellowski would require about 37 service aces to surpass Piche.

Photo by Erwin Kuhr

Near impossible.

"I am really proud of the fact that I will probably be No. 2 at the end of the season," said a realistic Pellowski, 24 years-of-age. "Like I said, I do not consider myself, one who plays the lights out. It is just consistent work, playing five years and placing the serve where they need to be into the court."

Even with another new Polish teammate this year, Radoslaw Brzozowski from his hometown of Wroclow, Pellowski still misses his native country.

"Honestly it is really good sometimes, that when you miss home, I have teammates who I can speak Polish with and talk about home and we share the same culture. But I definitely miss the food...classic Polish food like Polish Kielbasa, Polish Bread and Polish Pickles."

With an older brother Milosz "Monster" Pellowski, a high-profile professional lacrosse player back in Poland, Pellowski says he wants to make his "home" in Canada.

"It changed my life coming here. It was becoming an adult at one moment. Your mom is not around and you have to learn to cook and do your own laundry and pay bills. I am thankful for everything I have received from Keyano. Maybe I will want to settle here, raise a family."

A family that can enjoy outdoor and indoor beach volleyball 12 months a year.