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26/02/2016 09:57
History seems to go round in circles for Volleyball Viking Jonas Kvalen
2016 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup - Men

Menen, Belgium, February 26, 2016. As they say, sometimes history goes round in circles. 23-year old Jonas Kvalen first played in the European Cups in 2014 with Norway’s FØRDE VBK but his adventure ended very soon after playing – and losing – two matches with Russia’s giant Fakel NOVY URENGOY in the second round of the competition. Right now the 196-cm opposite who has scored as many as 116 points in the 2016 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup – Men is only two sets away from the semis and if he and Belgium’s Prefaxis MENEN achieve this feat following the re-match with ASUL LYON Métropole, Kvalen will end up playing Fakel NOVY URENGOY in the next-to-last stage of the competition.

Jonas is currently spending his second year in Belgium after last season he played for Argex Duvel PUURS. And the series of coincidences does not end with his ‘special connection’ with Fakel NOVY URENGOY. Kvalen initially moved to Belgium to play there as setter but ended up switching to the opposite position at the beginning of his first season in that country as a result of an injury suffered by a teammate. “Actually I started my career back home as a setter,” Jonas recounts, “and first played Volleyball when I was seven, eight years old. My elder brother Stian also played the game and he kind of inspired me. On top of this, one of our neighbours was a Volleyball coach and so he took me with him for training, at that tender age it was only once a week.”

Kvalen has been interested in many sports since his youth, playing soccer, handball and – coming from Norway this is not any surprise – he also did cross country skiing. “My brother certainly inspired me to develop an interest for Volleyball. He went to a Volleyball high school in Sauda and while visiting him there, I realised that I quite liked the idea and perspective of doing the same, so I also attended that same school which combines a focus on Volleyball with the ordinary education you get at any other school.”

Jonas realised it was going to be difficult to emerge and make an impact in soccer, but he also felt attracted by Volleyball. “I am left-handed and after growing up (he now stands at 196 cm) I had some advantages to rely on to play as a setter. I was quite tall for that position, and so a good option also at blocking, and I had the chance to spike the ball on the second touch. I always quite liked the feeling of hitting the ball hard, but I focussed my work on trying to become a good setter.”

His first experience abroad came in Poland when he was transferred to AZS OLSZTYN but while being there he had to deal with an old finger injury whose consequences are still felt today. “I sometimes feel some kind of discomfort when the ball comes very high or heavy, so it is kind of more difficult to control, but in the meantime I have adjusted my technique in order to feel less pain. After the time in Poland, I got back to Norway and played for one year in my home country where I continued my career starting to focus more on being a universal player.”

And as a setter he was transferred to Belgium back in the fall of 2014 while attending a camp in Japan with his former mentor from the Volleyball high school, Haruya Indo. “Everything happened very quickly, and I only had two or three weeks time between signing my contract and moving to Belgium.”

Some months before this move, he made history with the Norwegian national team qualifying for the second round of the CEV Volleyball European Championship. “It was a breakthrough for our national team,” Jonas recounts. “Three players on the team got an offer to play abroad. I played as opposite there with the national team but when contacted if I was interested in moving to Belgium, actually I was asked to continue my career as a setter.”

However, after joining the ranks of Argex Duvel PUURS, he soon found himself playing as opposite, once again because of a series of coincidences, and one year later he is – at this stage – the second best scorer in the 2016 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup – Men. “Once again being left-handed has proven an advantage also in this role because the opponents are mostly used to playing right-handed guys and so they have to find a way to adjust the block and sometimes they find it difficult to predict which trajectory the ball will follow and where I am going to hit.” His natural advantages, his discipline and consistent evolution have become a major weapon to rely on for his current team of Prefaxis MENEN and Jonas has scored the massive haul of 116 points – for an average of 4.83 per set – since the start of their European Cup journey this season. 

Jonas is definitely versatile and with a solid background also in Beach Volleyball – where he has won a number of national age-group titles – he has developed into an all-round player, who boasts on his CV also a fourth place from the 2011 CEV U20 Beach Volleyball European Championships in Tel Aviv, Israel. “I still do play Beach Volleyball during the summer time and I regularly perform in our national tour and last year I even played at a World Tour event. I would say that this has strengthened my abilities to read the game because in Beach Volleyball you have to be able to do a little bit of everything, from spiking to setting, passing etc.”

He is only 23 years old but his resume includes national age-group titles in both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball, and a triumph in the Norwegian national cup. “I still keep on working hard every day to improve and become a better Volleyball player and you have to do this if you want to make a living out of the sport. This is also why I have moved abroad, to get more chances to compete internationally and measure myself with the best players. This season we have travelled a lot in the Challenge Cup playing in the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia and more recently also in France; this is quite exciting and a continuous learning experience.”

Jonas does not want to look too far ahead, and he sounds humble and down-to-earth. “I think in Norway there is a lot of good players who have the potential to play internationally if they keep on working and grow step-by-step. There are especially many exciting guys coming up from the younger generations and I would certainly advise them to try and pursue a career abroad. Maybe it looks quite difficult at the beginning because you have to leave family and friends behind, you are kind of living alone in a foreign country but it is definitely worth it if you want to follow your dream and you have to be ready to make some sacrifices if you want to grow, improve and become a professional player.”

Later in May Norway will be hosting one of three first-round qualifiers for the 2017 CEV Volleyball European Championship – Men and Kvalen is hoping the home advantage can help him and his team repeat what they did in 2014 with their historic qualification for the second stage of the qualification process. “We probably got to play three of the strongest teams in this round with England, Hungary and Israel. We know them a little bit because we played some friendly matches before but with the advantage of playing at home – and I believe this is probably the first time we got this chance – I am hoping we will secure one of the tickets to compete in the next round in September.”

For the time being he is collecting valuable experience from the Belgian national league and the Challenge Cup that may be an extra bonus also for Norway’s national team. “At this stage we only have three players who are competing abroad and in my opinion we should have more doing the same to get to the next level and become even more competitive. However, I am hoping I can bring back home as much experience as possible to help the team in our next European Championship participation.”

With a sister who played professional soccer in Norway’s first division and is now a lawyer, and a 28-year old ‘big brother’ who is now shorter than him and inspired him to get involved in Volleyball before he had to stop himself playing due to recurrent ankle injuries, Jonas has also another interesting fact to share, since he worked for three years with a Japanese coach living in Norway. “Volleyball-wise working with Haruya Indo was the best thing that could ever happen to me,” Jonas recounts. “When I first came to the high school, I was not fully prepared from a technical standpoint and together with him we worked a lot on improving and polishing the technique. However, he mostly helped me in showing me the way to become a professional Volleyball player. He always took us abroad to play with foreign teams and with him we did a lot of video scouting, focussing not only on our own skills, but learning also from the world’s best players on how to perform a certain drill or simply looking at the way they played. He set the bar high and made me improve a lot faster than I could imagine, so that I became a senior national team player already at the end of my second year under his mentorship at the age of 18.”

Next Wednesday, March 2, Jonas will be hoping to add another chapter to this nice story by scoring a few more points to improve on his impressive tally of 116 so far as Prefaxis MENEN try to capitalise on their away victory over ASUL LYON to book their spot in the semis of the Challenge Cup. “There is a lot of enthusiasm around our team and we already got a full house last Saturday when we played ANTWERP in the national league. We also had a lot of people watching us in the home match with PÄRNU VC which we won at the golden set and I am hoping the whole of Menen is coming to support us for the match with LYON!”

And if it is true that history goes round in circles, his next stop would be against Fakel NOVY URENGOY, the same team that Kvalen played in his European Cup debut three years ago...

Photos courtesy by Sebastien Turkery and Maxime Petit

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