Ahnika Kuse went pro this summer.
After playing five years with the Lakeland College Rustlers women's volleyball team, Kuse signed her first professional contract with Chev Diekirch in Luxembourg.
"We haven't started league yet, but we have won one of our preseason tournaments and the team is getting better every day," says Kuse, Class of 2019 administrative professional and Class of 2018 university transfer.
The only Canadian on the team, Kuse signed on as a left side libero. "You can only have three international players on the court at one time, but a libero doesn't count as an international player," she says, explaining why she didn't sign as an outside hitter – a position she excelled in for five seasons with the Rustlers.
Encouraged by her teammates to apply, Kuse says she's thankful for their support. Over the years together, they won Lakeland's first-ever Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association banner in 2017. She was also part of teams that won national bronze in 2018 and back to back gold in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) in 2017 and 2018, as well as bronze last year.
In 82 sets last year, the outside hitter averaged 3.13 kills per set, served 29 aces, had 257 kills, 11 stuff blocks and 206 digs. Kuse holds a number of ACAC records, including third all time in kills (1,181) and fourth all time in aces (162). She leads the Rustlers in three categories and is first all time in sets played (394), kills and aces. Kuse was also named to the 2019 ACAC Women's Volleyball Championships tournament all-star team.
"It was the best experience ever. I feel like if I had went to any other team I wouldn't have had the same experiences. We were so close, just the way that our team interacted. We were definitely a family and we still are," says Kuse, who hails from Saskatoon, Sask. "We had such an amazing coach (Austin Dyer), getting to travel as much as we did and winning a national championship, it was the best. I am just so grateful that I got to play on this team."
Proud of Kuse's accomplishments to date, Dyer is excited to follow her next chapter playing in Europe.
"It was a real pleasure having the opportunity to coach Ahnika for five years. She came to Lakeland wanting to be the best volleyball player she could be. Her work ethic and competitiveness in training allowed her to become one of the best outside hitters in the ACAC and in Lakeland College history," says Dyer. "She was a very well-rounded student athlete, always pushing herself to be the best she could be in training, the weight room and in the classroom."
As Kuse takes her volleyball career to the next level, the biggest lesson she's bringing with her from her time as a Rustler is the value of hard work. "Our team was so close and we pushed each other," she says. "The level of hard work that I had to do on the Rustlers team, I think it's going to help me a lot."
For future Rustlers, Kuse encourages them to embrace the team's family dynamic. "You just have to buy in," she says. "Being part of the family is the biggest benefit because you make so many friendships and when you have those teammates that are your best friends on the court, then it's easier to get through all the tough games."