The life of a professional volleyball player involves plenty of air miles. One week you’re playing for your club in Poland, the next you’re in the Brazilian capital.
Chiaka Ogbogu has experienced her fair share of travelling over the years. Since graduating from the University of Texas, Ogbogu has been all over the globe chasing the leather round-shaped ball.
The born, bred and educated Texan spoke exclusively to Volleyverse on how she copes with the constant jetlag, the story behind her remarkable service game and why her home state is “so unique”.
Of Nigerian heritage, Ogbogu was once described by her college teammate Nicole Dalton as someone with “a really big heart” who “definitely has our respect and trust”.
At 6ft 2in, Ogbogu has rarely struggled to stand out but has previously revealed being “forced” by her coaches to attend try-outs. They saw what she couldn’t: her potential.
College volleyball ‘so unique’
At the University of Texas, she helped her team to the NCAA championship match and remains in the record books as the all-time blocks leader.
“I miss all of it,” says the four-time All American as she reflects on her college adventure. “College volleyball is so unique – there is nothing else like it in the world.
“When you’re in it, it seems like the most important thing. I miss just being surrounded by all of the people who loved that school.”
Born in New Jersey, her parents moved to Texas when her father was offered the role of emergency room doctor in Dallas. While a Longhorn, Ogbogu majored in Health Promotion. A chip off the old block, it seems.
Returning to Italy
After graduating, the American embarked on her professional career with Bisonte Firenze in Italy before moving on to Chemik Police in Poland, where she won the Orlen Liga (Poland’s top-tier volleyball league).
Ogbogu certainly left her mark in Poland after scoring 286 points over the course of the season and was touted as one of best players throughout the campaign.
She will now return to Italy after joining Imoco Volley – last season’s Serie A1 champions – for next season, which she described as the “ideal place” to continue her professional journey. Whilst at Imoco, Ogbogu is set to link up with Italian stars Paola Egonu and Indre Sorokaite.
“I already played in Italy two seasons ago in Florence, with Sorokaite, but I arrived at the end of the season and I never played at Palaverde,” Ogbogu reveals.
“But I heard a lot about the Imoco, the large public of Palaverde, and how here there is a great organization and a strong team, one of the top European teams.
“Kimberley Hill and Kelsey Robinson, my US national team-mates, talked to me so much about the club and the good atmosphere in the team, a strong group where I think it will be easy to enter.”
Hard ‘away from Texas’
This will mean another long period away from her beloved Texas for Ogbogu. As she preps for the final round of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League in China, the 24-year-old admits the memories made make it worthwhile.
“It’s hard to constantly be away from home but I’m glad I now am getting to do it with this group,” says Ogbogu.
“I love being around these girls and this staff and the memories we’ve made on this trip I’ll always hold on to. When it’s with USA, traveling doesn’t seem as grueling.”
Ogbogu’s performances in this season’s VNL have been nothing short of sensational. The Texan has scored 126 points – the second highest for USA, and of course, has recorded more blocks than any other American.
But it is her service game which has grabbed the attention of many, leading the way for USA with 13 aces.
“Last summer it was a huge focus of mine was to work on the consistency of my serve,” Ogbogu told Volleyverse. “I’ve spent a lot of time before and after practice with our coaches working on it so it’s nice to see the progress pan out.”