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11/11/2014 14:17
Suxho returns home after 20 years to ignite hope and passion for Volleyball
2015 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup - Men

Tirana, Albania, November 11, 2014. After travelling the world for many years, USA two-time Olympian Donald Suxho, 38, travelled back ‘home’ to play in his home country Albania for the first time in 20 years. Suxho has indeed decided to join forces with Albania’s champions Studenti TIRANA who are the country’s only representative in the 2015 edition of the European Cups.  

“I never thought it would happen but always wanted to come back and share my story, experience, help my country, the youth here,” Suxho says. This comeback to his roots has been a very emotional one and it included a stop in the city of Korçë (see picture), where Suxho was born in 1976 and where he started playing Volleyball under the guidance of his father Peter. Suxho moved to the US in 1997 and his career in the sport got totally different perspectives after receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduating from college, he then travelled the world playing in Poland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Russia and Argentina before last season he joined the ranks of Italy’s TRENTINO Volley, the most decorated Volleyball team of the last decade.

However, not everything went according to plan and after the departure of many of their stars, the team did not quite live up to their status and to everyone’s expectations. “It was a very difficult year, but we also had so much fun. We had such a young team with no experience and most of the players had never been starters in Italy. We won a lot of matches, also internationally, we won the Supercup and made it to the cup finals. Sadly, end of February, we had so many injuries and never recovered in time for the playoffs. It was not the way we wanted, but overall I believe it was a great experience.”  

After the end of the 2014 season, Suxho went back home to Huntington Beach, California, and waited for offers to come. “I have been able to stay in shape doing weight training, playing Beach Volleyball, and my 14-month old son Leo also keeps me in great shape, especially my arms and legs, since he is a heavy baby,” Suxho jokes. Leo is Donald’s second child after his eldest son Shane and was born in late 2013 when Suxho and wife Eleni – former Greek Volleyball player Gkortsaniouk – were proud and happy to welcome their first baby.

But how did Suxho decide that Studenti would be his team for the 2014/2015 season? “My last match before I left Albania was for Studenti TIRANA in Portugal back in 1994, and it was a match of the CEV Cup, so 20 years later luck has made it possible that I get to play again here. Everything happens for a reason.”

Donald Suxho wearing the shirt of Studenti TIRANA during the away match played last week in Hungary with Fino KAPOSVAR SE in the second round of the 2015 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup - Men

Though Donald left Albania 20 years ago, he seems to be well informed about the state of the sport in the country where he started playing under the mentorship of his father. “The level has dropped a lot, especially because the government does not invest at all, there are no laws to help businesses to invest here. After communism fell, people are trying to make a living or make a business, so sports come last, sadly. I hope that sharing my story, my experience, it can ignite some hope, passion and hopefully investments from governments and local businesses. I feel like I have to give back something to my home country after almost 20 years of professional Volleyball.”

The current roster of Studenti includes some players of Donald’s generation. How does it feel to be playing again with some of your former teammates or players who stood on the other side of the net back 20 years ago? “Yes, it is very strange because it has passed 20 years, and a lot of things have changed. But everyone is welcoming me here, and we are all working hard to play a good match.”

Suxho is now enjoying with Studenti yet another adventure in the European Cups, this time in the CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup. “The team’s goal is to gain experience, to see how much they need to improve and also compete, because this is the only way to get better. What are the goals I have set for this season? I am here only for one month to help Studenti pass the turn. Next I will look for a contract, if it does not come, I am done with competitive sport.” Next Tuesday, November 18, Suxho will be trying to help his team call for a golden set after losing the away match with Hungary’s Fino KAPOSVAR SE in straight sets.

Though he is very proud of his Albanian roots and has lived the life of a globe trotter, Suxho is an American citizen and played for Team USA at the Athens and London Olympics. Donald did not miss the chance to keep an eye on what USA did at the FIVB World Championships earlier this year. “I followed both our national teams closely. We as USA team men or women, have very high standards and always aim for the gold. The men are young and will be very good in the future. The women have a great coach and depth, they were very determined to win, you could see how hard they played each point in each match.”

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