Volleyball Canada


Alumni Spotlight: Murray Grapentine

VC Alumni Spotlight catches up with past national team members. This edition features Murray Grapentine, who was active from 1997 to 2008 with the men’s indoor team.

When a country competes at the Olympics, sport’s biggest stage, it inspires the next wave of athletes to strive to reach that level. For Murray Grapentine, it was the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, that not only inspired him but helped motivate him throughout his career.

"I can remember watching the men’s national team play in the Barcelona Olympics and thinking it was cool," Grapentine explained. “When I was in high school a group of those players came to my school for a summer camp. This was not too long after those Olympics. It was Terry Gagnon, Brad Willock, and Al Coulter.

“They are who really turned me to the sport of volleyball. I thought it was very cool to see Olympians at my school.”

For the rest of his career, his one motivation? “Very simply, it was to make the Olympics.”

Unfortunately, Grapentine never had his chance to play on the Olympic stage, but that drive to get there saw him put together a very impressive volleyball career.

The 1992 Olympians may have got him into the sport, but he didn’t set his sights on the national team right away.

“I don’t think I ever set it as a long-term goal as I was more just about making the next team - Red Deer College, University of Alberta -  than worrying about the national team,” he said. “It seemed too far away I guess. I wouldn’t say I thought I could make the national team until after we won CIAU’s at U of A in my second year of post-secondary.”

Grapentine got his start in grade 10, playing for the Alberta Juvenile Volleyball Team and competed three times in the Western Canadian Championships, being named an All Star in the 1997 Canadian Junior National Championships. From there, he spent one year with the Red Deer College Kings, leading them to a provincial and national title.

He then transferred to the University of Alberta’s Golden Bears in 1996-97, becoming an instant starter and star player, helping the team to a Canada West championship before winning the Canadian Championships as well. His play at Red Deer and U of A began to garner attention as in 1997 he represented Canada at the World University Games and was then named to the national team.

The Golden Bears alumni can still remember the first time taking the court donning the maple leaf.

“It was an amazing honour,” he reminisced. “We were playing in the University Games in Sicilia, Italy. It felt incredible to walk into the stadium representing Canada and then to participate in the games. We lost out in Pool Play but it was still a great experience.”

The VC alumni spent two more years with the U of A, winning two Canadian bronze medals and was twice named a First-Team All-Canadian. In his final year, he was also awarded Canada West Player of the Year and CIAU Player of the Year. At the same time, he was playing for Team Canada, winning a bronze medal at the 1999 Pan Am Games.

As it turns out, that bronze medal at the Pan Ams are a standout memory for Grapentine.

“Winning bronze at Pan Am Games in Winnipeg is probably my best memory because it was done at home. Paul Duerden came off the bench with a badly sprained ankle after Jules Martens had been playing so well to get us to the bronze medal match. It was a very close match against a very good Argentinian team.”

At this time, Grapentine was also gaining a reputation as a world-class blocker. At the 1998 World Championships, he was named 7th-best, and then in 1999, he was named the best blocker at the NORCECA Championships and third best at the World Cup. This became a regular occurrence for him for the remainder of his career, earning the honour of best blocker at the 2000 FIVB Olympic Qualifier, 2003 and 2007 NORCECA Championships, and 2006 Pan-American Cup.

Now that he’s retired, Grapentine can share his secret to becoming a world leader in blocking.

“Study the game tape and game plan,” he explained. “Learn setter’s tendencies. Know who the best option for attack is for the other team’s setter in every rotation and with different types of passes. Think about all that before the ball is even served. Do your thinking before the play so you can just react when the play happens.”

Adding to the accolades he racked up in his career, in 2005, Grapentine was named captain of the national team, serving for the last four years of his career in that role.

“I was extremely honoured,” he reflected. “There were many guys that helped me with the leadership duties. Guys like Scott Koskie, who was the previous captain, Steve Brinkman, Paul Duerden, and Dan Lewis to name a few. As most team sport athletes know it takes more than one person to lead a team. I was very grateful for their help.”

During his career, he also played volleyball overseas, playing in Spain, France, and Italy over a seven-year professional career. He won the Championat de France in 2003, followed up with a Coupe de France title in 2004 and again in 2007.

Grapentine announced his retirement in 2008, his 11th year as a national team athlete and his fourth as captain. As with many athletes playing at the levels that the Wetaskiwin native reached, this was not an easy change.

"Honestly, (the transition to retirement) was difficult for me,” he said. “So much of my identity was tied into volleyball that felt lost for a while once I was done playing. I had a good job and family but didn’t really know who I was without being an athlete or involved with volleyball. It took talking to people and self-reflection to start me on my journey of self-identity.”

Into retirement, Grapentine managed to keep busy while sticking with the sport how he can.

"(I keep busy with) family life mostly, some rec sports here and there," he said. "I was an assistant coach with the University of Regina men’s team before the program was shut down and have coached my kids a little."

He’s also had a chance to reflect on his playing career and what he is most proud of, which has changed since his playing days.

“While I was playing, I would say being recognized as one of the top blockers in the world,” Grapentine explained. “However, since retiring, just playing on the team is the thing I am the proudest of. I see it as truly an honour to have played for Canada.”

As a former national team athlete, Grapentine knows what it takes to reach the highest levels of sport. For those looking to represent their nation at the same level, the elite blocker had some advice.

“There was a story that Terry told us in my first year at U of A,” he started. “The gist of it was every decision you make has pros and cons. You can go work out or you can go hang out with friends. Neither is ‘wrong’ and there is a time and place for each. Knowing when to do them is key.  

“Also, practice with intention. Don’t just go through the motions because the drill is boring or easy.  Work on staying mentally and technically strong all practice.”

Photo, top: FIVB.

  • Interview by Josh Bell 
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Murray Grapentine

Pan Am Games 1999 (CP Images)