Once upon a time, a little girl was inspired by the leadership and commitment exemplified to her by the coaches of her summer volleyball camp. Today, she stands as one of the most influential student leaders and athletes at UTM, known for her positive attitude, enthusiasm and dedication to the future of volleyball within UTM’s growing athletic program. Jessica Maltese is in her fourth year at UTM, completing a major in Biology and a double minor in Forensic Science and Biomedical Communications. She’s also the captain of UTM’s women’s tri-campus d-league volleyball team.

Maltese was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. Athletics are important to her family. Her dad played a lot of soccer growing up and both her brothers play hockey. She believes the Maltese’s are a hockey family and isn’t ashamed to admit she didn’t take much of an interest in the sport, but is just as happy watching them.

Maltese is the first in her family to play volleyball. But volleyball wasn’t the first sport she took up at a highly competitive level. She played both volleyball and basketball at her elementary school, but chose to play rep basketball. One of her elementary school coaches invited her to come to a tryout. “It was easy,” Maltese explains. It was easier joining a basketball club when she already had the connections there, opposed to looking for a volleyball club. “I had basketball, and it was right there. But I always knew I loved volleyball more.” After two years of rep basketball, Maltese played a year of rep volleyball for the Burlington Club.

Maltese learned how to play volleyball through Hamilton’s Seekers Volleyball Camp. “Growing up, this camp was so good. The coaches’ started their own club and won everything.” That club came into the competition as the underdogs and left winning national championships. Her summer coaches spent a lot of time analysing the game, and coming up with the most innovative volleyball techniques, that proved to be very effective. “They did some crazy things, but it worked for them. And since then I always wanted to be a coach. Always.” As a little girl, Maltese remembers watching her coaches, how they operated and how people treated and responded to them and wanting to be just like them. Maltese eventually realized that dream, becoming a camper turned coach in her final year of high school and first year of university.

Maltese can’t remember exactly what drew her to volleyball, only that she fell in love and couldn’t let go. “Volleyball is so addicting. Everyone always wants to play. They all want to go to drop-ins and Canlan, an athletic sports center here in Mississauga.

Maltese’s family has supported her passions, and continues to do so now that she plays for UTM. They trusted her to make the appropriate judgments regarding her academics and extracurricular activities. “They said to me, ‘As long as you can balance school, rep and school sports. It’s up to you, but the moment you think you’re comprising one for the other, then step back.’” And in Grade 12, Maltese did just that, making the decision to step back from and focus on school. She’s now in her third year playing for UTM. “I didn’t play in my first year, because I didn’t know that there was a team. I saw

[volleyball]

intramurals going on and wanted to know what that was. And I had a friend who invited me out, to just play at an open net. It was at the end of the intramural season, so I couldn’t join a team. But I’d already met everyone from the UTM team, so I decided to try out next year.” Maltese made the team in her second year. Now in her final year at UTM, she’s team captain.

It has been a transition for this year’s volleyball team. UTM’s volleyball program looks to join badminton, cross country, soccer and basketball in the OCAA in the next year or two. And in their preparation they’ve brought in a new coach, and with him a transformed culture and attitude. “He’s made everyone take things more seriously. He creates a very competitive environment. People take it more seriously because now you have to fight for your position on the floor. They’re training hard, and because they’re training hard they play better,” she says. “It’s good that the program’s developing, it’s definitely getting better,”

It’s been a difficult adjustment. “We started so low. Everyone from the very first day was so motivated to play, which was nice because it can be difficult to get that commitment on a tri-campus d-league team. Everyone was committed to figuring out how we were going to get better and start winning games.”

The team only practices once a week for an hour, and their head coach, Daniel Hayes, has to split his focus between both the men’s and women’s teams. UTM’s women’s tri-campus d-league volleyball team hadn’t won a game in over a year and they had gone the entire of last season without winning a set. “We started off slow and kept building. Then in one game we made it to five sets, and almost won, losing by a couple of points. Coming so close motivated us, until we won our first game.” A highlight for Maltese was seeing how happy everyone was after finally winning a game, and what that win meant for the future of the program. “It feels like the program is developing. To see it finally developing, and being taken more seriously. Taken seriously by not only the athletes, but the UTM community and athletic community as well.” The only disappointment Maltese felt was the fact her team peaked so late into the season. “Everyone was so committed, and had been working so hard. It’s unfortunate it didn’t happen until the end of our season.”

Despite a start that would discourage any team, losing their first four games, they surprised everyone, including themselves with a strong finish. An improved team gives Maltese hope for the program’s future, “We looked like a different team,” she says.

Anything is possible when the commitment, passion, and drive to be better is there. And our UTM Eagles ended the season with a possible taste of what the team can be, how the program as a whole can improve and grow.

In her ambition to grow the volleyball program here at UTM, Maltese become more involved in campus sports and took on leadership roles as a League Commissioner for volleyball and dodgeball. “What drew me to play in intramurals was how much fun it was to play with people from other sports, like basketball or soccer. It’s not just about teaching people. It’s still a very competitive environment, but we’re all helping each other to get better.” She also feels like volleyball doesn’t get as much attention as it should. “I feel like on this campus basketball gets a lot of attention. It’s grown so much over the years. I wanted volleyball to grow in the same way.” The volleyball program needed to grow, and starting with an improved Intramural league seemed like the best way to start. As the volleyball leagues commissioner, she encouraged her friends and teammates to split up and create separate teams to grow the league and while encouraging players new to the sport to participate and continue to play the sport. She now regularly spots players from the league at drop-in volleyball at the RAWC. Maltese hopes to expand the league by adding an all-star event, similar to what’s been done for intramural basketball.

Maltese says that becoming a commissioner was not what she expected. “We have a lot more impact than I thought we would. They [athletic program office staff] let us make decisions and run our own leagues. It’s been nice to have that. It feels like a mini project.”

Maltese also ran the UTM intramural dodgeball league, offered for the first time this year. And like volleyball, Maltese embraced the challenge of building the new league. She’s been working hard on it, and is particularly proud of how much it’s grown in such a short time. This semester’s league not only has more diverse participants, but is also more competitive. “All the teams are competitive. Everyone on the teams are very competitive, and it’s so much fun to watch because you never know who’s going to win.”

She not only leaves an impact on her team, but on UTM’s Athletic community. Maltese has been instrumental to her team’s growth. Early this year she was recognized as one of UTM’s Athletes of the Week, not only for her strong play but her leadership on and off the volleyball court. She teaches and inspires her friends and teammates with her commitment to her team, and encourages them to see the best in themselves and always work to improve.

“Maltese is a great team leader, and an even better friend. You can count on her always being there for you. I’m so thankful for having met her,” says teammate, Jessica Reynolds.

“To put it simply, she’s a strong leader. She inspires others with her encouraging words and humble attitude. She sees the best in everyone, and is always ready to help when she can. Playing with Maltese has taught me both patience and resilience, and I strive to be more like the amazing captain she is,” says other teammate, Madeleine Meyers.

Jessica Maltese has blossomed into an incredible athlete and leader here at UTM. She leaves behind an unwavering legacy, having become a true testament to what you can achieve. What you can achieve for not only yourself, but also those around you, when you’re committed, humble, enduringly positive and encouraging.