Two Essex volleyball stars are celebrating signing their first professional contracts this month, having only just finished their degrees.
Conor Walker, who completed a BSc Sports Therapy
in July, has signed for Calasancias A Coruña
in the Spanish league, and Bozhidar Kolev, who completed an MSc Electronic Engineering
, has joined USC Braunschweig in the German league.
Both arrived at Essex on sports scholarships
, their talent having been identified by former Great Britain captain and Essex Volleyball Performance Coach Alex Porter.
The Volleyball Programme has gone from strength to strength over the past seven years.
Alex Porter said: “Our Performance Volleyball Programme launched in 2013 and offers daily training, with both team and position-specific sessions. Students also benefit from workshops designed to develop them technically, tactically, psychologically and physically.
“The facilities in Essex Sports Arena provide a really great environment, including the ability to offer delayed video feedback on our incredible seven metre screen.”
Conor Walker said: “You get a bursary every term, but it's much more than that – you get the gym programmes, the support network, the physios, the coaches and access to the courts pretty much whenever you want. It has just really helped my game.”
Individual training programmes are provided by Strength and Conditioning Coach Justin Mills.
Bozhidar Kolev said: “Justin is so helpful. Even before I got Essex, he’d worked out a detailed summer workout package for me and that continued throughout the year.
“I could definitely see how his workouts were challenging me and making me a better athlete.”
Alex Porter added: “In 2018/19, the men’s team won the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) National Championships for the first time, and since then they have won the Volleyball England Student Cup three times. The women’s team have reached the BUCS semi-finals and won the Student Cup once.”
The University recognises the multiple demands made on student athletes, with an academic flexibility policy designed to help them develop through representing the University, their clubs and country while completing their studies.
Bozhidar Kolev said: “My time at Essex gave me a great opportunity to get some connections in the volleyball world. Alex Porter knows a lot of people, which in a small sport like this is one of the most important things for me. You never know where opportunities will come from.”
Alex Porter said: “Our undergraduate bursaries are designed to attract the best young prospects to Essex and develop them to be the best they can be. To date, we’ve helped 14 students gain a professional contract in Europe and 12 win their first senior national team cap.
“Our postgraduate programme helps to bring in elite level athletes – Olympians, internationals and former pros. They come here to study but also to give back to the next generation.
“We are always looking for good athletes. I stress the ‘good’, not ‘elite’. The key things for us will always be personality, desire, resilience and grit. Those characteristics will help an athlete through the highs and keep them going through the lows. “
Both Conor and Bozhidar are looking to the future.
Conor Walker said: “Volleyball is big everywhere in the world except in the UK. Spain is a great country to be in.
“I want to help this club the best I can and maybe bring something different - something they've not really seen in the Spanish league before.”
“If we can make top four this season, I'll be very happy.”
Bozhidar Kolev said: “I’m really looking forward to getting going. Braunschweig already has great basketball and football teams. My goal is to get people talking about volleyball in the same way. And the way to do that is to put in the work, on and off the court.”
Alex Porter said: “Congratulations to Conor and Bobby on signing their first professional contacts. They’ve put in a lot of hard work to get there - now the real fun begins.”