Buchanan’s Strefling hangs up volleyball career for WWE contract

Published 2:58 pm Monday, March 27, 2023

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(First of two parts)


NILES — Two years ago, former Buchanan standout Franki Strefling thought that volleyball would take her around the world.

That seemed like a logical conclusion since volleyball had been the central fixture in her life until last fall.

But life has a funny way of presenting unexpected opportunities, like the one Strefling received from World Wrestling Entertainment.

At Buchanan, she was a four-year letterwinner who helped Buchanan reach the Class B semifinals in 2016.

Franki Strefling was all set to return to Cyprus to play for Nea Salamina when the WWE came knocking. (Photo courtesy Nea Salamina)

Her prowess on the high school court led her to sign a national letter of intent to continue her academic and athletic career at Eastern Michigan University.

Strefling’s collegiate volleyball career was off to a great start in 2017 before an injury ended her season. She returned to the court in 2018, setting new personal bests in kills, points and assists.

Expectations were high for Strefling heading into her junior season with the Eagles, and she more than met them as she played in all 28 matches that season, starting in 24 of them. She completed her junior campaign with new highs in points and kills, both of which were second-best on the Eastern Michigan roster.

Things only got better for Strefling her senior year as she became the first Eagle since 1989 to earn AVCA Midwest All-Region First Team honors and be named All-Mid-American Conference First Team.

She started all 20 matches for Eastern and finished second in the MAC in kills and points. She also became just the sixth Eagle to total at least 1,000 career kills and digs.

Stefling then set her sights on playing professional volleyball. She signed Nea Salamina Volleyball and played one season for the team, which is located in Famagusta, Cyprus.

“My senior season, I was given the opportunity to go back and take a fifth year due to COVID, which everybody does,” she said. “For a while, I kind of had my heart set on that, and I wanted to continue playing at Eastern. I loved college, and I loved my team, but then the summer of 2021 hits, and I was traveling a lot and I was getting a lot of coaching experience. When you do that you get put with a lot of people who are already professional players who already play overseas or with high-level coaches.

“So, I was gaining a lot of knowledge about pro-life and coaching. It kind of put me in a mindset that I was okay with what I had accomplished at Eastern, and I felt okay being done. I was really excited to take a shot at it and go overseas.”

In July of 2021, Strefling decided to call her coaches at Eastern and set up a meeting to tell them that she was ready to move on from college and play overseas.

“They understood,” she said. “I went out and got an agent, and I played overseas in Cyprus for eight months. Arguably, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had a blast. I love Cyprus. I loved my coaches and I was able to meet some amazing people.”

Strefling was ready to return to Cyprus and Nea Salamina as she had resigned with the team and had left her clothes, bedding and everything over there.

“I had every intention of returning,” she said. “I got an Instagram message about a week after I touchdown down back in the United States from the WWE pretty much asking me to give them an opportunity to talk to them.”

Strefling said they wanted to get on the phone and explain to her what they were all about and offered her a tryout in Nashville, Tennessee, during the week of SummerSlam.

“At first, I thought, ‘what a joke. This has to be a scam,’ I am a volleyball player who doesn’t know anything about wrestling,” she said. “It would take a lot to get me out of volleyball. I jumped on a call, and they pretty much said everything I needed to hear to get me to try out.”

Strefling quickly formed a game plan as far as training for her tryout. After all, volleyball training is a far cry from the training that WWE wrestlers do. She also knew it would take that type of effort to give it her best shot.

“For the rest of the summer, I switched my training because I told myself, ‘if I am going to try out for the WWE, I am going to be as prepared as I can because that is a life-changing opportunity. So, I switched from jump training to strength training. I started doing gymnastics. I did more things I thought would help me in the realm of wrestling instead of volleyball. And, low and behold, I went down there, and after four days of public speaking and rolling around and bumping on my back and getting hit, I somehow managed to finesse my way into the opportunity of a lifetime. I got offered a contract.”

Strefling was one of 15 members of the WWE Performance Center 2022 Rookie Class. She was joined by the likes of football players, track and field athletes, gymnasts, cheerleaders and a professional soccer player.

In an unforeseen twist of fate, Strefling was not the only Eagle to earn a contract.

Chukwusom Enekwechi, a shot putter from Eastern Michigan University, is also a member of the rookie class. Those two were joined by gymnast Lea Mitchell from Michigan State University.