A long-time Steinbach resident, well known for her career in volleyball as player and coach, was honoured by being inducted into the Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame Wednesday evening in Ottawa.

Michelle Sawatzky-Koop says the anticipation coming up to the event was very special, while the evening itself was amazing.

“The evening was sort of, appetizers, visiting, and then they had a video for each inductee. They had some greetings, of course, from Volleyball Canada, and then before we got inducted, they played a little video that they had put together, with all the things each inductee had done, with pictures and video. And that was neat to watch."

After which Sawatzky-Koop says there was a presentation and speeches by each inductee, who took the opportunity to thank the people that have had most the most impact on their journey to the Hall of Fame.

(video by Marina Reimer)

Sawatzky-Koop notes as much as it was an honour to receive the recognition, she smirks and says she didn’t feel like she was old enough for that kind of award. She recalls the evening, standing at the microphone thinking, here was her chance to speak from her heart, and so she did.

“I was excited to be able to thank people without whom I never could have done this. I think we often celebrate sports publicly, something like an Olympic event, it has such high esteem, and it's so respected, and I think that's wonderful, because when I think back, which this has caused me to do, the incredible sacrifices that I made to do this, for like 15 years of my life, was spent really doing volleyball more than most people thought was possible in one given day.”

Sawatzky-Koop shared some of her volleyball journey which included her need to work extra hard to excel at doing what she really loved and wanted to do, especially when few believed she could. And now to be inducted into the National Volleyball Hall of Fame, Sawatzky-Koop says, “it felt really cool.”

“I was excited that I got this opportunity to thank the people from the Steinbach. I said to my mom before I left for Ottawa. I said, “Mom, isn't this hilarious? I’m just a little girl, from a little family from Steinbach, and here we are, going to Ottawa with all these big wigs. I just feel blessed to be able to say to anyone who will listen, that anyone can do anything and that's really truly how I feel.”

Sawatzky-Koop says that she remembered and appreciates, even today, the tough coaches she had in the 1980’s and 90’s that helped her grow as an athlete, with determination and courage, and she notes why she believes she has made it this far through those hard years.

"I had a good home-base that I could rely on. A faith that told me what I was worth, so that I could enter the arena knowing that this was a sport that I was going to try to be the best at, and I was going to need some thick skin to do it."

Michelle and Chris Koop with their sons Paxton and Tyson in Ottawa (photo submitted) Michelle and Chris Koop with their sons Paxton and Tyson in Ottawa (photo submitted) 

She says her husband Chris and their two sons also attended the induction ceremony in Ottawa. Sawatzky-Koop talks about her boys and volleyball.

"What a special time for our family of four. It was amazing for my boys to see me in my world. I mean they weren't alive when I played, so they never really saw me play. And I know they loved it (the ceremony). Just them being so happy for me and proud of me is emotion inducing.”

She takes a moment to brag about her husband, who she says is a great volleyball player himself. “But his humility has been incredible, and just how he has let me be me, and often at his own expense.”

She says four friends from Steinbach, Marina Reimer, Carolyn Peters and Sandy Loeppky, also made the trip to Ottawa, with the added value of getting to watch Team Canada and Eric Loeppky play volleyball.

Michelle with a photo of her parents John and Adina Sawatzky (photo submitted)Michelle with a photo of her parents John and Adina Sawatzky (photo submitted)

Sawatzky-Koop gets emotional as she shares that her mother couldn’t make the trip, so instead her sisters, brother, nieces and nephews met at Mom Sawatzky’s home and watched the ceremony online. She notes her father, who passed away in October 2023, would have been the first person to buy a plane ticket to Ottawa.

“But I brought a little picture of them in a little frame, and I put it on my table, because they just had to be there. Like, this is just all about them. Really for me, these honors of mine, like, how would you do anything without parents like that? They did everything for me. They were there with me in spirit.”

Sawatzky-Koop says, thinking back one of the reasons she has stayed living in Steinbach, while still traveling across Canada and around the world coaching and playing volleyball is because of the people of Steinbach.

“Thank you to Steinbach. Still one of my best memories is coming home after the Olympics (1996). And I'm not kidding, but every single sign in town, every billboard, every one of those big signs in the fields, every lit-up sign at businesses said, “Thank you, Michelle, for taking us to the Olympics with you”. And “We're so proud of you”.

“I was shocked. But when your home community does not forget you, yeah, no wonder I still live here.”

“So, thanks.”


With files from Kenton Dyck

The following description is from the 2024 Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame Inductee program:

The Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame includes athletes, builders, coaches, referees or teams who made major contributions to the development of the sport in Canada and beyond. This year, the list consists of five individuals, a mix of builders and athletes.

Michelle Sawatzky-Koop with other inductees into the Volleyball Canada (photo submitted) Hall of Fame 2024Michelle Sawatzky-Koop with all the Volleyball Canada 2024 Hall of Fame Inductees (photo submitted)

Michelle Sawatzky: In 1987, Michelle led the Steinbach Regional Secondary School Sabers to a AA championship. From there, she just kept on winning. As a setter at the University of Manitoba, she helped the Bisons win three straight CIAU championships, from 1990 to 1993. During that time, she took home National Player of the Year honours twice.

Michelle had a stellar international career. In the early 1990s, she played for the Canadian junior team and competed at the World Student Games. Michelle joined the senior national women's team in 1995, winning bronze at the Pan American games that year.

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Michelle guided the Canadian women to a ninth-place finish. In their final game of that tournament, Michelle led the team in a 3-2 win over Peru—the first Olympic win for the women's program. Michelle is now a motivational speaker and coach.