Perth Steel on the hunt for medals at Scape Australian Volleyball Super League
He was part of Mexico’s first and only volleyball team to qualify for the Olympics, now Jose Martinez is excited to be breaking new ground with Perth Steel in the inaugural Scape Australian Volleyball Super League.
The Steel will field strong men’s and women’s teams in the innovative national league in 2023, with women’s star Shelby Maher saying the squads are ready to embrace the new and exciting competition format.
Martinez is playing his second season with the Steel, having crossed over from the Melbourne Vipers when he relocated to Perth last year to work with Volleyball WA.
The 30-year-old grew up crossing international borders every day, raised in Tijuana, Mexico, but commuting to high school in the bordering US city of San Diego. That education turned out to be a defining move for Martinez, who discovered volleyball while on a break from the basketball season.
He progressed to be selected on the Mexican national team, which then qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It was Mexico’s first, and only, Olympic appearance since the country had been an automatic inclusion as host nation for the 1968 Mexico City Games.
“Qualifying for the Olympics was an historic moment because no one had ever done it before,” Martinez says. “For some countries, not winning a medal is probably a failure. But for us, just being able to qualify and get that spot, we felt we’d accomplished something really big. It was like nothing I’d experienced until then.”
Martinez also played professionally in France, before moving to Melbourne to pursue a Masters in Arts and Cultural Management. Impressed by the standard of volleyball here, Martinez would love to see Australia earn a spot at the Olympics again before hosting the 2032 Brisbane Games.
“Australia has it really hard [in qualification], being part of the Asian Confederation, that in itself is very challenging. They have to be better than good,” Martinez says.
“I think the level [here] is outstanding, especially given it’s mainly self-funded, people just love the game and being involved. People are so committed, Australians love their sport, and it’s been great to be part of it.”
The Steel men were bronze medallists at last year’s Australian Volleyball League and Martinez says the squad will be better for that experience, especially given two years of no national competition due to COVID.
“A lot of our guys were in their early 20s last year and they hadn’t had the chance to play against anyone except others in WA. Now they have that interstate experience against the best players in the country, a little bit more maturity, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be ready for when the season starts.”
Maher says the women’s squad will be ready too, keen to take out the first Scape Australian Volleyball Super League title after finishing runners-up in last year’s national league.
Maher was appointed as a WA volleyball ambassador in 2021 to help grow the sport and promote healthier lifestyles, visiting schools and communities.
Maher says the Scape Australian Volleyball Super League is an exciting chance to build the exposure of the sport and enter a new era.
“We’re going to be the guinea pigs in the next couple of years [for this new league] and I think it’s going to benefit everyone in the future, so we’ve got to embrace it,” Maher says. “It’s what we’ve been asking for – more money into the sport, more coverage and making it bigger. We’ve got to buy into it.
“You’ve seen it in other sports. I explain it to people like cricket. I would never watch a five-day test match, but I definitely watch the T20 and the [Perth] Scorchers.”
Maher tips that new rules to speed-up the sport, such as power plays and no time-outs, will also enhance player skills.
“You can never be comfortable, it’s going to push us all to be on edge throughout the entire match, which is quite good performance-wise,” Maher says. “It’s going to be more player-driven.
“I’m super excited, coming off the [AVL] silver last year I think we’re starting in a good spot.”
Six foundation associations will compete in the inaugural Australian Volleyball Super League: Canberra Heat; Melbourne Vipers; NSW Phoenix; Perth Steel; Queensland Pirates; and Adelaide Storm.
The innovative, fast-paced and family-friendly competition begins 12 August, and it will see all men’s and women’s teams play on the same day, at the same venue in the same ticketed session.
Perth Steel will start their season in front of a home crowd at Warwick Stadium, WA, where they will take on NSW Phoenix.