If the University of Montana’s goal is to open the doors of the world to its graduates, count former Griz volleyball star Jaimie Thibeault as one who has stepped across the threshold to the other side and taken advantage of her global opportunities.
Thibeault, who graduated this month with a degree in elementary education, signed a contract with Lavoro Doc Pontecagnano recently and will begin playing professionally in Italy the first week of January.
“I’m excited, because Italy was my No. 1 choice,” says Thibeault, who spent the fall semester student teaching at Cold Springs Elementary in Missoula. “It’s probably the best league in Europe.”
Thibeault, from Red Deer, concluded her Montana playing career in 2010 as a three-time first team All-Big Sky Conference selection.
She holds the program record for career blocks and ranks second in career hitting percentage.
She made the Canadian national B team in 2010 and last May was one of 24 players selected for the senior team.
As one of the senior team’s most junior members, Thibeault won’t be a factor when Canada competes in May at the FIVB Olympic Qualifier in Mexico. There the team will meet Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico, with one remaining spot available for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Instead she is part of the foundation for the team’s next cycle of players who will represent Canada at international competitions through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Over the next four years a full-time teaching career will be put on hold while Thibeault attends to her volleyball dreams and goes through the annual cycle of training with her Canadian teammates each summer at the national training center in Winnipeg, followed by continued professional playing opportunities in Europe. Those seasons typically run from August through April.
Thibeault was contacted by an agent for European volleyball a year ago, soon after her playing career was complete, but she turned the opportunity down in order to finish her degree.
The same agent kept Thibeault’s contact information close by and reconnected with the middle blocker this fall in a way that shows the ongoing evolution of personal communication.
“He Facebooked me,” Thibeault says of the agent whose job it is to track NCAA volleyball for European clubs.
Soon Thibeault will be immersed in a new culture. She’ll be living just south of Naples — “five minutes from the beach on the Amalfi Coast” — and be the only American on her club team, which plays matches typically once a week.
“All of (my teammates) speak slight English, but not very much, so it will be interesting,” she says.
(Joel Carlson is an assistant sports information director at the University of Montana.)