Coming into University, Roza Kalashnikoff did not think she had what it takes to be a varsity student-athlete.
Four years later, she’s had the chance to be a part of two varsity teams for the Victoria Vikes. A rower for two and a half years, Kalashnikoff currently finds herself in the midst of her first season on the Vikes women’s basketball team.
“Both my parents encouraged me to try out for the rowing team, and the basketball team and see what happens,” says Kalashnikoff. “They have been huge in my career, and are very supportive of me.”
Every fall, Vikes rowers recruit students they feel would be a good fit for the team. During Kalashnikoff’s first week of school, the six-foot Vernon, B.C. native was quickly noticed by a rowing athlete for her athletic frame. Though she was not very familiar with the sport, with the encouragement of her parents Kalashnikoff decided to try out.
“She started as a novice and was one of the top novices coming out of her year. She rowed at times in the varsity and at times in the second varsity,” says former Vikes rowing head coach and Olympian Rick Crawley, who retired in April 2018 following a 35-year career at the helm of the Victoria program. “She picked it up pretty quickly, as she was just half way through her third year of rowing when she returned to basketball. She was already contesting for a seat in the varsity.”
As her rowing performance kept evolving, Kalashnikoff credits Vikes current rowing assistant coach York Langerfield with helping her tremendously and always encouraging her. In 2016, her efforts didn’t go unnoticed, being awarded Novice of the Year, earning a spot on the Vikes Honour Roll and a silver medal at the Canadian University Rowing Championships in the women's eight.
“That was huge for me,” she says. “I was not expecting to be picked that year. I didn’t really have much of the application but the coaching staff thought it was a good match. It felt amazing to be a part of that, go to Ontario (for the national championships in Welland) and represent my school.
“Seeing that I didn’t know anything about the sport…I just tried to learn as much as I can and do as much as I can,” Kalashnikoff adds.
“The coaches were great. Having an athletic background and enjoying being fit helped. But I realized it wasn’t my sport, (even though) I loved the opportunity of being there.”
Kalashnikoff’s love was in basketball. After coming from a small high school, she didn’t have the chance of playing competitively until reaching Grade 10. Often, she would often play intramurals instead.
But once she arrived at UVic, Kalashnikoff was noticed by head coach Dani Sinclair. With some unfinished business with the sport she decided to try out, and made the team. She just wrapped up her rookie season with the squad, which hosts Fraser Valley in a Canada West play-in game on Friday night.
“I thought with more time she would have progressed further but it was also obvious in hindsight that at a certain point she was thinking elsewhere,” says Crawley of Kalashnikoff’s decision to return to the hardwood. “I think basketball got a hard-working, dedicated athlete who benefited from the conditioning boost rowing gave her. They got a very nice person who is a positive team player.”
Kalashnikoff’s work-ethic speaks for itself. Her competitiveness has allowed her to make two varsity teams in sports that she had little experience in. Growing up, she played soccer, volleyball and also swimming. Her athletic background has paid dividends in her university career and has allowed her to be ready to compete in anything.
“My skill and experience are less than others, so I feel like I need to work harder,” she says.
“I love the idea that in sports you don’t need to be the most skilled, you could try the hardest or work the hardest and good things will happen. I try to hold on to that as I learn new things.”
Switching from rowing to basketball was not an easy transition. Kalashnikoff had difficulty controlling her wind at first, having transitioned from a fit sport to a hand sport. But her competitive nature has helped her grow rapidly.
“Rowing is more individual in the sense that it’s more in your head. Coming into basketball, I appreciated how you could encourage your teammate in every play and have more interaction. During races you can’t really talk to your teammates, so going into basketball I enjoyed that you could make your team better and cheer them on.”
As she relearns the sport that she loves, Kalashnikoff is embracing every opportunity and is eager to continue to learn from her coaching staff and teammates, have left a positive mark on everyone she’s played with.
“Roza has made a successful transition back to basketball. She is not only an incredible athlete, her work ethic and competitiveness is unmatched,”
Dani Sinclair - Head Coach Women's Basketball at UVIC
“Roza has made everyone around her better and is an important member of our program."
“What she loves most about basketball is how there are so many opportunities to impact the game, and Roza demonstrates just that every time she has an opportunity to play. Whether it a game or practice, she competes and works at an elite level.”
A level that allowed her to make multiple varsity teams when she thought wasn’t talented enough for even one.
Ronny is a sports business management student at Humber College. He earned his bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Carleton University. His career includes writing for BasketballBuzz Magazine, Canada Basketball, the Nike Crown League and more. He hopes to inspire and empower student-athletes through his storytelling.
Follow Ronny on Twitter: @RonnyMusikitele