Up until grade 10, UTM athletics and volleyball student leader Brianna Webb’s life revolved around soccer. She played on soccer representative teams all her life—it was everything to her.
Currently, in Webb’s fifth year at UTM, you would never find her at a drop-in soccer session or playing in one of the UTM intramurals soccer leagues. A bad soccer coach late in her competitive soccer career cemented the inevitable realization for her—Webb hated soccer. At the same time, Webb realized she had a real passion for volleyball.
Webb grew up in Stoney Creek, Ontario, a small city just outside of Hamilton. If she wanted to play for a good volleyball team, she would have to play in the neighboring city of Burlington or somewhere else in the GTA. She never pursued volleyball beyond her high school team, a house league team, and the odd volleyball tournament.
During her first two years at UTM, Webb, like many student athletes, felt she needed to take a break from sports and focus on school. Up until starting university, sports had been a large part of her life.
“My mom used to play volleyball, but only recreationally,” Webb told The Medium. “My family is more of a hockey family, so there’s no spotlight where volleyball goes. Everyone follows hockey. My dad played hockey, and my brother plays for Saginaw Spirit [and] was drafted to the Detroit Red Wings.”
As the oldest of three siblings, Webb is the first to take volleyball seriously. In her third year at UTM, Webb became a member of UTM’s tri-Campus volleyball.
“I just decided to do it. I felt like I was better able to manage my time in my third year than when I was in my first. In hindsight, I wish I was better at managing my time earlier. I really missed volleyball in my two years off, but I guess I also didn’t realize what kind of opportunities were out there. I did my own research and found there was a team, not just a campus recreational league,” said Webb.
Like most sports, playing volleyball often comes with injuries. Last year, Webb dislocated her right thumb.
“I went to volley a really hard hit with my hands, instead of bumping it. It hit my thumb hard,” said Webb.
The injury came at terrible time for Webb and her team. They were in the middle of their season and had signed up for extramural tournaments. She had a cast for four weeks, and her thumb taped for another two weeks. A true lover of the game, Webb tried to get back into the game as soon as possible. She described the experience of staying away from the game she’d fell in love with as “torture.”
“I wasn’t fully ready, but I slowly eased into it and now I’m 100 per cent,” Webb said.
After being a regular participant in drop-in volleyball at the RAWC and in UTM’s campus intramurals, Webb took her involvement a step further and became a student leader this year. She is now the Head Volleyball Referee, and, like a commissioner, she assigns student referees to games and helps with scheduling and other administrative duties involved with running the intramural program.
The leadership role wasn’t one Webb thought she would undertake during her time at UTM, never considering herself to be very vocal or have assertive qualities often synonymous with leadership.
But she has surprised herself, not only with how much she has come to love the role but with how much she loves having a say in UTM athletics.
“As weird as it sounds, I like being in charge of something and having a say and contributing to how athletics are run for students. I want it to be successful, and I’d love to have a hand in that success. What I like the most is being able to contribute and playing a major role in the program’s growth.”
Despite being an infant sports program in comparison to most universities, UTM’s athletic community has become familial for many student athletes. Year after year, it continues to grow—the program, the teams, and the athletes.
“I feel like it’s growing, and it feels amazing to be a part of that growing process. I feel like we’re going to be really good in the next few years. I can see the differences being made,” said Webb.
In terms of life after UTM, Webb plans to pursue a master’s in social work to fulfill her passion of working with and taking care of children. Webb has known for as long as she can remember that she wanted to work with children. She just didn’t know what field she wanted to work in.
“When I looked into what child social workers do, I could see myself doing just that and helping children. And once I realized what I was actually going to be passionate about, everything seemed to make sense. It wasn’t about what was going to make me the most money, it was about what was going to keep my passionate for the long run.”
Webb is more than a student athlete. She works part time through the city of Hamilton teaching children’s sports skills classes.
“I teach volleyball, basketball, and soccer. I work with children as young as three—pre-school kids. The pre-school kids are my favourite, because for them it’s just about learning,” said Webb. “They don’t have a clue, and I can just teach them.”
Webb also recently started working with children with special needs. It was another new venture this year that placed Webb outside of her comfort zone. Up until this year, she taught just classes. Now she counsels one-on-one with young people, providing extra support. And like her new student leader role, the new component to her job is one she likes a lot more than she originally thought she would.
UTM’s volleyball team has struggled in recent years, but Webb has been optimistic, especially after some of the recent changes the program has gone through. One such change is their new coach, Ngebui “Natalie” Chafeh who Webb feels has brought a lot to their struggling program.
“Natalie has the most faith in the world that we are going to develop as a team. I knew from the first practice [that what she was having us do] was definitely going to help us progress so much more than last season,” said Webb. “She’s impacted our team dynamic, how we play, how we communicate, and our overall chemistry.”
A true fan of sports, Webb follows volleyball and basketball whenever she can. With volleyball not being a very popular sport it’s harder for Webb to access volleyball games, but that doesn’t stop her from supporting her fellow volleyball athletes at their games whenever she can. There isn’t one volleyball player that she considers a role model, but if she had pick one she’d pick UTM’s own coach, Natalie.
In terms of work ethic, despite him being younger, Webb looks up to her brother.
“He’s really hard working in sports and it’s helped him reach where he is today with a spot in the NHL. Even though he’s my younger sibling, he’s been into that hard-working environment in sports for a lot longer than I have, and that’s something I look to him for and get advice from.”
A humble student leader, Webb would rather focus on what she can bring to the athletics program over what she wants to be remembered for.
“I want to leave a mark on the progress that UTM’s volleyball has made. I know people in the past, like Jessica Maltese, were in the same position I am now, the position to contribute if only in the slightest to that progression,” said Webb. “I’d like to be part of a winning team because I never have in the past. I want to contribute to some success for the team, while also developing as a player.”
Webb is an approachable and patient leader who exerts an understated optimism that inspires and uplifts the people around her. She recognizes how much being a part of the UTM community through athletics has changed and added to her life, and she hopes future students won’t be as timid as she was to get themselves involved in the community as early as possible.
“Unlike myself, who didn’t get involved until third year, I would say get involved right away, immediately. Even if it doesn’t come to you, seek it out,” said Webb.
“Go out and see what you can get involved in. It doesn’t have to be sports. I guarantee it will make your time here at UTM so much better,” added Web. “And you can definitely handle it on top of school. Even if you think you can’t, you definitely can.”