All-Canadian standout Jocelyn Blair will pound the volleyball for Canada at the 25th Summer Universiade, starting July 2 in Belgrade, Serbia.
"I'm very excited," the distinguished St. Albert athlete told the Gazette Wednesday. "It's a great way to finish off my university career."
The left-side power from the University of Alberta Pandas and Trinity Western University Spartans middle Jansen Van Doorn are the only returnees on the 12-player Canadian roster from the 2007 team that finished 11th out of 16 countries at the last Universiade in Bangkok, Thailand.
Blair, 22, made the 2009 team as the first power hitter after serving as the second power in her Universiade debut.
"It was a really good experience. International volleyball is very different. Teams are big and strong," she said. "It was a very humbling experience playing against teams like China and Poland that have been playing volleyball since about the age of eight."
The Canadian spikers are looking to make it out of group play for the first time since placing eighth in 2001 in Beijing, China. They open the tournament against China (2007 bronze medallists and 2005 silver medallists), followed by matches against Slovenia and Taiwan in the preliminary round.
The top two teams from each of the four groups advance to the quarter-finals.
Two years ago Poland beat Serbia for gold.
"Placing 11th [in 2007] wasn't that great so we hope to finish above 10th place," said Blair, a Grade 12 all-star with the Bellerose Bulldogs, the 2003 metro Edmonton premier conference finalists and fourth-place finishers at the 4A provincials as the host team.
The Universiade is an international multi-sport event that takes place every two years. It's second only to the Olympic Games in the number of participating athletes and countries. It's open to competitors between the ages of 17 and 28 in the year of the games who are full-time students at a post-secondary institute or have graduated in the year preceding the event.
After graduating from Bellerose in 2004, Blair cracked the Pandas' starting line-up in 2005/06 and tied for first in conference aces. In the Canada West quarter-finals, the six-foot-one Panda led the team to victory over the rival Calgary Dinos with a combined 23 kills in two matches.
This past season she led the Pandas offensively, finishing third in Canada West with 3.43 kills/set (247 total) and third in points with 3.95/set (284.5 total). However the Pandas placed fourth in the Canada West playoffs and failed to qualify for nationals. With three spots at nationals up for grabs in the four-team draw, the Pandas dropped their opening match to Trinity Western in five sets. In the showdown with Calgary for the third and final berth at nationals, the Pandas lost another tight five-set decision despite 21 kills and eight digs by Blair.
"That was my biggest disappointment. Being a host team, in front of your home crowd, you're expected to win and for it to be so close like that was tough."
At the 2009 nationals, the UBC Thunderbirds defeated Calgary in five sets to repeat as CIS champions. A couple of the UBC players will be Blair's teammates at the Universiade.
"It's a little bit difficult being around the UBC girls, knowing that they went to nationals and we didn't and they won it."
After the Universiade, Blair will complete her education degree while weighing her volleyball options. She was recently invited to attend the national team tryouts in March.
"It really depends on school and my knee," said Blair, who plays in pain with no cartilage around her right knee.
St. Albert connection
Also going to the Universiade from St. Albert is fullback Keshia Wallin and assistant coach Liz Jepsen in women's soccer. Wallin, a third-year Panda, was named to the Canada West second all-star team in 2008/09. Jepsen is the Pandas' head coach.