Second-year standout looking to build on last year
He walks down the Mount Royal University hallways daily and when you see him, you can't help but notice. He plays for the Cougars men's volleyball team and measures in at seven feet one inch tall. His name is Grigor Kartev, a second-year player from France who can singlehandedly change the outcome of a volleyball game.
"I was a normal kid until I was nine years old and then I started to grow," says Kartev, a product of the French junior national team. "At 14 I started growing really fast."
Kartev is an intimidating presence at first sight, but he knows that in order to show his worth he must play well on the volleyball court.
"When (opponents) see me they are like 'Whoa! He's tall' and stuff but volleyball isn't about being tall. It is about co-ordination and about being dynamic and fast," he says.
Even his head coach, Shawn Sky was intimidated when he first met Kartev last year.
"When you first meet him, if you're not used to seeing somebody that is over seven feet, it's intimidating," Sky says. "Once you get to know him, he is a young man just like anybody else. He's very personal, very engaging, very eager to learn, and cares what people think."
That sentiment holds true to team captain Daniel Durham who also described his first encounter with Kartev.
"It was a bit shocking because he was so tall, but mentally he was still younger. It's hard to accept that when someone is so much bigger than you but they still have the same troubles as you had at that age," Durham says.
Sky recalls the first time he met Kartev, who had just moved to Canada and was still adapting to a new way of life he was not yet used to.
"Your first year is about getting your feet wet. Especially for him, huge culture change, language change, way of doing things," he says. "That's a huge culture shock coming to Mount Royal."
Sky believes that Kartev is on his way to reaching a high peak as a volleyball player.
"He isn't even close to his potential yet," he says. "He still has to change a lot of things to be successful. The great part about it is that he is eager to do it."
Kartev spent two years with the French junior national team in Montpellier, France, before coming to Canada. Sky believes that Kartev landing in Calgary was a stroke of good luck but believes that it worked out well for both parties.
"It was one of those situations that was right place right time. It is very apparent now that it is the right fit," Sky said. "He loves it here, he is flourishing here, and he is going to be very successful academically and athletically here."
The story of Kartev's recruitment is a bit murky. Coach Sky takes little credit for getting Kartev on the team as it was the work of Konrad Plante, an assistant coach at MRU. Plante coached Ivan Kartev, Grigor's older brother, who currently plays for the University of Calgary, and was able to get Grigor on board. Grigor came to Mount Royal because of his brother's relationship with Plante.
Sky believes that Kartev is capable of altering a volleyball game in favor of Mount Royal at any given time.
"He changes it. It sounds very simplistic, but he literally changes it because purely by his size there are things that the other team cannot do offensively. He intimidates people. ... If you never met him before and he is standing on the other side of the net he intimidates you."
Kartev went to London over the summer to watch Olympic volleyball and he has an ultimate goal in mind for his volleyball career.
"My goal is to play on the French national team in four or five years and maybe to go to Rio," he says of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
For now though, Kartev will have to settle on playing against the competition at the collegiate level in Canada.
"If you can impose your will on someone, you make them play differently," Sky says. "As soon as you make them play differently, you have an advantage. He does that."
- By Pol Nikulin