Northern Ireland Volleyball member Jack McMurray has been awarded a scholarship to play volleyball at university in America. Jack has always been a fantastic player and has been a bright light within the Junior and Senior National Teams. He also represents Southern Regional College Armagh and Craigavon Aztecs. We are so excited for Jack to begin his US journey and wanted to ask him about his experience before he starts in August. Check out his answers below:
Tell us a bit about the scholarship, which state are you headed to, what college will you be joining? What course you will be studying etc?
Ill start school in august 2023, I will be heading to the city of Toledo in Ohio, USA to play under coach Greg Reitz at Lourdes University, a top NAIA team. Right now, at SRC Armagh I study exercise science which I will also be continuing to study at Lourdes.
Tell us about the process, how did you get the scholarship, was there a lot of work involved?
I started volleyball in year 8 and from the get-go was athletic and had ability. However, to get the scholarship I knew that having only ability will get me only so far and being an undersized outside hitter at that level I needed to put in a lot of hard work on my own to make up for the lost e.g., height. There was a lot of work put in in the gym for example last summer I went 3months in the gym 5days a week not missing a day trying to get my body into better shape to compete with bigger and more physical guys as I knew my height would be one thing that would limit me.
Apart from this there was a lot of paperwork involved to gain the scholarship, a lot of emails sent to different coaches over Canada and the USA, and a lot of work put into getting video and preparing on how to even e.g., chat to college coaches. Fortunately, this was aided by my agent, ex Olympian Mark Plotyczer who runs an agency business called Tiebreak agency and helps international athletes gain scholarships in the USA, Canada, and England. He helped and is helping me complete the paperwork especially and guided me more smoothly through the process!
What does playing scholarship volleyball look like? What is the schedule or timetable like for a student athlete?
For me at Lourdes we train 4-5 times a week with 3 team lifts a week and 2-3 matches per week. This for me will be a culture shock which I’m prepared to give a go as when you compared to how much I train on court here its night and day. But I know if I can stick it out, I’ll come out a better player than I went in. On top of this I can’t forge that I am also a student meaning I will be studying the same as a normal university student trying to get my exercise science major!
Tell us a bit about your playing background, how many years have you played, what clubs/teams?
I first started volleyball in year 8 playing in my school Tandragee Junior high school. I feel lucky to have gone here as it wasn’t as big in any other schools even around the whole of Northern Ireland but thanks to coach Karl Gale, he gave us the opportunity to play at tournaments and even stayed after school with us to help us develop which I appreciate. My first and only club was Craigavon Aztecs coached by coach Callum Grieve, who really took my game to a whole new level which I enjoyed. I really loved coming in and getting better and soon after I got the chance to move up and train with the first and second teams at Aztecs. However, I would play under his cadet’s squad and u17 national team from the age of around 14 onwards but I feel staying an extra 2hrs every week to train with the older guys helped me. Although I would have guys 3times the size of me spiking balls and getting knocked out with he force of the balls I enjoyed it as I knew it would only make me better and soon after instead of getting hit in the head, that would turn into a touch on the ball, then that would turn into a dig and so then I saw my potential and how I was rapidly developing.
In later stages I have now progressed through the second and first team at Craigavon Aztecs and now play with Northern Irelands under 20s and recently got my first cap for the senior national team!
What has been the highlight of your playing career so far?
The highlight of my career so far would be winning the gold medal at the flying Scots invitational tournament in St. Andrews, Scotland. For me this was a milestone in my life that just left me thinking how far this could go. After that tournament I had a newborn passion and love for the sport after seeing what it could make me feel and what it could make me experience in my life.
Another highlight would be beating Luxembourg under 20s in last year’s Small Countries Association tournament in Dublin. Although the results that followed weren’t as expected or the results we wanted, this match was another highlight and realization of how good I and the boys in the squad could be.
What are you looking forward to most on your scholarship journey?
I am looking forward to hopefully coming back each summer as a better and new person. To do this I’m looking forward to waking up early each morning and putting the hard work in. I’m looking forward to playing and training at a consistently high level that I believe will take my development to a new level. Lastly, I’m also looking forward to seeing the American culture towards training and the sport and making new mates and friends within the sport.
What will you miss most about home?
I think number one will be my family, my mum is a big help for me so I think I will miss her especially the most and I will miss the people really, whether that’s the guys I’ve made friends with through volleyball, my mates or the random “what’s the craic” as I don’t think ill be hearing any of those where I’m going!
How are you preparing to go away?
I’m doing a lot of paperwork and stuff to get everything right. Also, I’ve started getting into better shape changing my diet and starting after the indoor season Ill be going to the gym once again 4+ times a week to get into the best shape I can. I’ll be watching as much volleyball as I can trying to learn small details that may make a big difference in my game. To prepare I’m just going to do as much as I can to prepare myself physically and mentally for whatever comes my way.
Are there any long-term goals or aspirations for your sporting career?
Thinking long term, I would love to someday play professional volleyball in Europe somewhere I think that’s been a dream and goal for a very long time that I continue to work towards every day.
What advice would you give to anyone else thinking about the scholarship process?
To anyone else thinking about the scholarship process or thinking about going down the same line as I am, I would say everyone that ever gets to that level is going to work hard so hard work is something you must do. Turning up every day to the gym or to practice should be a case of discipline and desire to get 1% better and not motivation. I would say to the person thinking of this not to take a day off and miss an opportunity that when you are older and retired you look back on the person you could’ve been if you e.g., worked harder or did that extra pass, set or spike.