For years, Kelsey Veltman has dreamed of playing volleyball at a professional level.

While playing professional sports is common in her family, it doesn't happen to be volleyball; her father, uncle and cousin have all played in the National Lacrosse League.

Veltman, now in her second year at Western, played lacrosse growing up but found it just didn't feel right.

"I got into lacrosse at a really young age — in kindergarten I was playing on a boys’ team," Veltman explained. "Then finally when I reached grade nine, I was already 6-1 and the average height in lacrosse, I swear, is 5-4, so I was standing out like a giant and I just felt so insecure. I was just like, 'I can't do this anymore.' "

At first her family was disappointed that she didn't want to play lacrosse, but after many years of success Veltman jokes how she's no longer the "family burden."

If Veltman does go on to play at a professional level, she doesn't have to look far for advice. Her current coach at Western is 28-year-old Melissa Bartlett, who played professional volleyball in Spain in 2008 and 2009.

"Everything she tells me I feel is just so important," said Veltman. "Some other girls on our team want to play pro as well in the future, so she's also a really good asset to have." 

Bartlett has not been the sole influence on Veltman's desire to play pro – it has been a longtime goal of hers. 

"I think about it all the time. When I was like 15 it was already my goal to go play professionally," she said. "I went to go watch Canada versus Netherlands when I was really young and I [have been] just so inspired since then."

Veltman hopes her career could return her to her family's roots. 

"Maybe somewhere in the Netherlands where my family is from would be so much fun [to go back],” she said. “Getting paid to do something you love everyday would just be the experience of a lifetime.”

So far, Veltman is on the right track to success. Last year, in her first season with the Mustangs, she was named the Ontario University Athletics west division player of the year and was named to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport all-rookie team. 

Veltman recorded 199 kills on the season, seventh best in the entire OUA and a .307 hitting percentage, also seventh best in the OUA.

Before putting up these impressive numbers as a rookie, Veltman was unsure she would be bringing her talents to Western. Coming out of high school, many schools, including Division-1 schools in the United States, were interested in recruiting her.

Unlike many other top athletes in Canada, Veltman decided to stay in her home country for collegiate athletics. The largest factor in Veltman's decision to come to Western was her previous experience playing for coach Bartlett on Team Ontario. 

Another factor in her decision to stay in Ontario was the funding she receives from the Quest for Gold program, an Ontario based program that provides financial support to high-performance amateur athletes who stay and train in Canada.

Before she sets her sights on her future aspirations, Veltman will be trying to help the Mustangs compete with the best teams in the OUA in the new year. The team, currently finished for the holidays, is out to a fast start with a 7–2 record. They return to action on Jan. 16 against the Waterloo Warriors.

Their first big test will come on Jan. 30 when they face the 8–1 McMaster Marauders at Alumni Hall. Last year, Western upset the top-ranked Marauders in the playoffs before finishing third in Ontario.

This season is sure to be an exciting one for Veltman and the rest of the Mustangs. She will undoubtedly be a central part of the Western offence for the next few years. After that, who knows, maybe she'll find herself following her dream – and in her coach's footsteps – by playing pro in Europe.

JENNIFER FELDMAN / GAZETTE