The Legend of Kelsey Veltman
Western Mustangs Women's VolleyballGreg Bowman
The Western Mustangs women’s volleyball team is one of the top in the nation over the past couple of years. This season’s fourth place finish was the first time since 2014 they did not win a medal in the OUA.
For graduating senior, Kelsey Veltman, she was a cornerstone piece of the Mustangs’ success for the entirety of her career. The Brampton, Ontario native comes from a family of athletes, with her father, uncle and cousin all playing high-level lacrosse. Kelsey’s sister, Lauren, also plays OUA volleyball for the Ryerson Rams, who beat the Mustangs in this year’s semi-final. For Kelsey, getting involved in sport just seemed natural: “when I was super young my parents asked me what sport I wanted to play...they naturally put me into lacrosse and I was also doing gymnastics on the side..I was in an athlete’s family so I knew I was going to play sports.” Veltman was first put into volleyball around age 10 where she would play for her school teams until joining a club team a few years later. She played for a low-level club team until she was 16 years old until she made the decision to join the Eclipse Volleyball Club in Pickering, Ontario before coming to Western. The Toronto area has no shortage of volleyball opportunities, and Kelsey was sure to get as many reps as possible: “in order to get better and move on I had to switch teams,” she reflects, “I remember my parents sitting me down and talking to me about it saying ‘if you want to get better and want to be good, you gotta switch teams.’”
When it came time to take the next step, Veltman was a highly sought-after product: “Melissa Bartlett was also my Team Ontario coach when I was in grade 11. During the recruiting process I just felt like I knew what her style was and I was comfortable with her. Also just being a little farther away from home...two hours from Brampton isn’t too bad of a drive.”
Veltman’s rookie season in 2014-15 was truly dominant. It is rare for rookies to see court time in OUA volleyball, but Veltman was already a centrepiece in her first year. She played in 78 sets across 19 matches, and was on the court for all 13 sets the Mustangs played in the playoffs as well, with the purple and white winning the OUA Bronze that year. Veltman recorded 199 kills and 93 blocks during the regular season, and was named OUA West Rookie and Player of the Year, earning a First-Team All-Star honours while also ending up on both the provincial and national All-Rookie teams. “I didn’t even know these awards even existed,” Veltman recalls, “I remember going up to some teammates and they were like: ‘woah, that’s kind of a big deal.’”
The Western Mustangs women’s volleyball team had been resurrected with the addition of Veltman, and also the leadership of second-year Head Coach Melissa Bartlett. It was their first OUA medal since 2011, and brought Mustangs women’s volleyball out of a dark time of sub .500 teams. Bartlett’s first recruiting class included Veltman, and the dividends were paying off immediately.
The 2015-16 season saw a new set of expectations, with the team showing a talented crop of young players, who had already tasted a morsel of success. They were primed and ready to go on a longer run in Veltman’s sophomore season, and they would dominate the OUA in the regular season, finishing first in the West with a 16-3 record. They would stumble in the playoffs though, losing to the Ryerson Rams in the semi-finals, then beating the McMaster Marauders to capture their second straight bronze medal. Veltman would be named the OUA West Player of the Year for the second straight season, and was named a CIS First-Team All-Star as well.
After a stellar regular season, the playoff result didn’t sit well with Veltman: “It was devastating. I feel like we came in expecting to beat them and expecting that our season would carry on into playoffs… and I think we took that for granted,” said the middle-hitter, who had 186 kills, the second-best hitting percentage at .399 and the most blocks per set with 1.32.
With yet another season under their belts, and the taste of disappointment in their mouths the Mustangs came back in 2016-17 as a more motivated team: “we had really high expectations on ourselves. We had been through this situation twice at this point.”
The Mustangs finished the regular season with the second seed in the West at 15-4, and found themselves in the OUA Final Four for the third straight year. This time though, they were finally able to get to the championship game, winning a five-set thriller against the Toronto Varsity Blues in the OUA semifinals. Veltman had a team-high 19 kills and was fed the ball a total of 52 times in that match. The Mustangs were off to their first National Championship in six years: “I felt like we won the whole entire thing,” she said, grinning, “I was rolling on the ground--that’s not a normal celly for me… we all supported each other so much that whole entire game, we knew we were going to win that even though we were down.”
Western settled for silver in the provincial championship, falling to the Marauders in another five-set thriller. They were able to participate in nationals hosted by the Ryerson Rams, but fell to the UBC Thunderbirds in their opening match. They would get retribution against McMaster in their next match, but finished the tournament in sixth place. Veltman was named an OUA First-Team All-Star and the Player of the Year for the third straight year, while also being named a U Sports Second-Team All-Star.
The 2017-18 season was another opportunity for the Mustangs to make a run for the national title. Veltman had another outstanding year, finishing within the top three of four statistical categories (2nd, kills per set - 3.55; 2nd, total kills - 234; 3rd, hitting percentage - .356; 2nd, blocks per set - 1.20). The Mustangs finished the regular season second in the West at 13-6, and were back in the Final Four where they lost yet again to the Ryerson Rams. Western did capture another bronze, making it four straight OUA medals. Veltman would be named an OUA West First-Team All-Star, U Sports second-team all-Canadian.
Veltman’s final season was another strong one, helping the Mustangs to a 14-5 record while having the second-most kills with 261, and the second-best kill percentage at .344. Yet again though, Veltman fell to her sister’s Ryerson Rams in the OUA semi-finals: “they have a really good solid core. Any one hitter on that team could be a star player on any other team,” lauded Veltman on her sister’s team.
The Waterloo Warriors would then beat the Mustangs in a tough-fought, five-set thriller of a bronze medal game, which was the last match Veltman played in a purple and white jersey: “I bawled my eyes out as soon as it was over. We were shaking hands and I was already crying. I’m not sure if I was crying because I knew it was my last game or just disappointment,” said Veltman, who was named an OUA First-Team All-Star for the fifth straight year, and got U Sports Second-Team All-Star nods as well.
Now, Kesley turns her focus on trying out for Team Canada this summer in hopes of representing her country. She is also in the process of finding an agent so she can play professionally.
Over her five years at Western, Veltman was a three-time OUA Player of the Year, a five-time OUA First-Team All-Star, and was a National first or second team all-star for all five years. She is the most decorated woman to ever play volleyball for the Western Mustangs. She, and the initial recruiting class for Melissa Bartlett in 2014 brought a program out of the shadows and made them a force to be reckoned with in the OUA. The Mustangs now have at least one standout rookie every year, and it was a movement that began with Veltman. She is a quiet leader, who simply loves the game of volleyball. Her electricity on and off the court makes her an exemplary player for anyone who is looking to compete at a high level in the OUA. Though her career is over, her legacy will live on as one of the greatest women to ever play volleyball at Western University.