Rise’s Dimitrova to retire from pro volleyball

Rise’s Dimitrova to retire from pro volleyball

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Rise plays its final home game of the season Sunday. It’ll be the last chance to see star opposite hitter Emiliya Dimitrova play at Van Andel Arena.

Dimitrova will be saying goodbye to a crowd that made her dream come true.

When the Pro Volleyball Federation was announced, head coach Cathy George had her work cut out for her, as she had to assemble a team.

“There was some hesitation to get involved in the league overseas,” George reflected.

When she got a tip that a player from Bulgaria was interested, she made a call that would define the first ever Rise team.

“I was in Italy my season last year when I received a message from Cathy,” said Dimitrova. “I was surprised, because I had no idea who she was.”

Before Grand Rapids, volleyball took Dimitrova across the globe.

“I started from Bulgaria, obviously, then I went to Italy for half a season, then Romania, then back to Italy, Turkey, two more seasons in Italy, then one season in Japan, three years in Turkey more, and my last season was in Italy,” she said. “When I finished my high school, my dream was to come to America. I couldn’t make it happen then, but a little bit later I made it happen.”

The veteran took the offer from a coach she had never met in person and came to the states.

When she got a Grand Rapids welcome from a sold out crowd at Van Andel Arena, she knew she made the right choice.

“There was one word for it. Real. It was real. It’s real pro volleyball,” Dimitrova said. “And the fans we had were just amazing. Home. It felt like home.”

Rise’s Dimitrova named Player of the Week

Her dream didn’t end with getting to the states: The 17-year pro had a plan to mentor the next wave of pro volleyball players.

“When I see girls 10 years younger than me, I try to think, ‘What was Emiliya look like 10 years ago?'” she said. “I feel more proud. When I help them and see them succeed, see them shine, makes me feel this is also my win.”

Teammate Claire Chaussee said she has been able to learn from Dimitrova “on and off the court.”

“The things she’s gone through and what she can teach me has been a nice blessing,” Chaussee said. “I’m very grateful to be on the same team with her.”

George only knew the name of who she was recruiting from Europe when she first made the call. Once the season started, George learned she brought over someone who spent the last year of her pro career making her dream come true while helping the teammates around her achieve their dreams.

“She gives a wealth of knowledge to our entire team,” George said.

“I hope we are going to leave this a better place after us,” added Dimitrova.

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