From an early age Tom Heptinstall has been surrounded by volleyball. Now in his third year at the Australian Institute of Sports’ Center of Excellence Tom is set to take his family’s passion to the next level.
Later this month Heptinstall will wear the green and gold when he represents the country at the 2018 Asian U20 Men’s Indoor Championships in Bahrain.
The 19 year-old Bunbury native is enjoying a run of success following his Australian debut at last year’s U19 Asian Indoor Championships. On the eve of his second Australian team, Heptinstall credits his early memories at the Bunbury Indoor Beach Facility as the beginning of his Volleyball career.
“I was young, about seven years old when I started going down with my parents to the Bunbury Indoor Beach facility. For a long time I went with them and just watched them play. I remember it looked like fun, I enjoyed watching but I just really wanted to play.” Tom said.
Having watched on the sideline for a few years, Tom was ultimately invited onto the sand by dad Alan and from there his ability grew. Playing in a range of social competitions the two Heptinstall men bonded and instilled a growing passion for the sport.
At Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School Tom’s passion evolved when he decided to move off the sand and on to the hard court to represent the school. Tom initialed signed up as a way to have fun and play with mates, however his talent for the sport was clear. Eventually a WA state coach identified him as a potential state representative at a school game and invited him to take the leap.
“It was strange, I hadn’t given that level of volleyball much thought. But things took off after that. I made the team and played at nationals, then at nationals the same sort of thing happened. I was invited to some national camps and the rest has rolled on since.”
It was the combination of luck and a growing enjoyment for the game at higher level competitions that kept Tom involved. The opportunity to compete in national competitions eventually saw him choose volleyball.
“Success and opportunity played a big part in helping me make the decision to stay in volleyball. I liked basketball, but I suppose the opportunity to play bigger and tougher competitions [in volleyball] kept me more interested.”
The modest Heptinstall got his first indication at a future with the upper echelon of volleyball when he was invited to join the Australian Institute of Sport’s Center of Excellence at the end of 2015.
“I was playing at the Australian Junior Volleyball Championships and had no idea what the Center of Excellence was, or how the Australian Institute of Sport fit in to Volleyball. I was introduced to the coaches and had a chat with them. They ended up asking me if I would move over.”
Three years later and Tom’s hard work has paid off. Training 12 to 14 hours a week and working full time as a teacher’s aide, Heptinstall has been able to make the most of his opportunities. He has been selected for two National teams and recently signed his first professional contract to play in the 2018/19 European season for Nordenskov Volleyball in Denmark.
“It’s a relief more than anything. I’ve been working hard to find a contract, so when it all came through a lot of the stress was gone. It’s great to see the results coming together.”
Tom admits the decision to pack up and move across country was not the easiest experience, however the six foot nine player would not change a thing.
“It was a big change when I first moved. It was a little scary, but you settle in pretty quickly and discover you are surrounded with what you love.”
Pegged as a future Volleryroo by Australian coaches, the responsibility of wearing the green and gold has not fazed Tom.
“To represent your country is such a good feeling. I played in the U19 Australian team which was an awesome experience. It feels good to be able to do it again. Nothing beats when you are over at the competition and you step out on to the court.”
Heptinstall has been reunited with some of his U19 team mates and is in the middle of preparations for Australia’s upcoming U20 Asian Championship campaign.
“Everyone is in Canberra so it’s a good chance to train with each other. We’re all focused on finishing as one of the top two teams so we can qualify for the World Championships. It’s going to be a lot of work but everyone’s pretty dedicated and working towards it.”
The 2018 Asian U20 Men’s Championships will be held in Bahrain later this month.
Be sure to check back soon for our next international spotlight feature with Australian Referee Dani Francis.