Northern Illinois volleyball setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) traveled to Europe to participate in the 2009 Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia this month, representing the United States and the Youth National A2 program. The following are her blog entries about her European experience.
Wednesday, July 15
During practice on our first day in Europe, I remember saying to my teammate, Hillary Trebels, University of Virginia, that I couldn¹t believe we were actually in Europe. We are nearing the end of day two, and this trip couldn¹t have been more amazing than it's been thus far!
When people say the flight to Europe is long, they truly mean that. Apparently, I was thinking 9 hours from Atlanta wouldn¹t be that long. But trust me, it is. Luckily, the movie 17 Again was playing, so I watched that with my family who is here with me on the trip. I worked on some of my summer school homework, played Hearts with my dad, sister, and cousin, and attempted to sleep. That was the interesting part. I could not get comfortable on the plane. I am definitely buying a first-class ticket if I ever come back to Europe! The lack of sleep on the plane would catch up to me later.
Of all places, our team met at the McDonald¹s at the airport in Zurich. I feel so fortunate to be playing with girls from all over the country, and from some of the top programs in the nation. From Clemson to a future player at Texas, it has been unbelievable to play with my new teammates. Everyone is so friendly, and we are all here to play our best volleyball possible.
After our team was all together, we got on a train ride to our training facility in Zuchwil, Switzerland. The train ride was about an hour and a half, and once we got to the station, we walked around for 30 minutes or so. We walked down the cobblestone roads, took pictures of the gorgeous flowerboxes that lined the windows, and embraced the picturesque mountains in the background. Europe is different than any place I have ever been. It¹s so beautiful.
We checked into our rooms and ate lunch. The time change is about 6 or 7 hours for most of us. We were eating lunch here in the middle of the early morning at home. I am finally now used to this time, I think. As long as I think about the time it is here and not worry about the time at home, it¹s all good.
We practiced once on day one. During our first practice on the second day, we scrimmaged against the BIP/USA Development Team. It was a challenge to learn how to play with a new group of girls, but it¹s something that we have slowly been learning how to do. At our first practice, we did mostly ball control, with a little hitting. Later on in the day, we focused on hitter coverage and free ball chances. Hitter coverage and working on free ball plays really helped us earlier tonight when we played the Swiss National Team.
One of the "non-volleyball" activities we have done was to go swimming at our facility. There are on-site outdoor and indoor swimming pools, including slides and diving boards. We had a blast! My team is actually swimming again while I am writing this. It is so nice to be able to have some time to hang out together. Our coaches have been really nice about letting us do other things while we have been here, as well.
With all our luxuries in the United States, one thing we are all missing here is air conditioning. It sounds ridiculous and selfish (which it is,), but wow, we are so spoiled at home. Being here has made me appreciate all the amenities we have back home. Then again, there are so many things here in Europe that are very special, too. The people have been more than welcoming to us, trying their best to make us feel comfortable while we are here.
Thursday, July 16
Today was our first match against the Swiss National Team. For not having played together for more than a day, I would say we did very well at times. We now have a better feel for how we play individually, and hopefully, we can bring that with us tomorrow to play better as a collective group. Set one started off very well. It was relatively close, until we let them get on a long run. We struggled in one rotation, which allowed the Swiss team to rally off a large string of points. Second set was kind of the same. We let the Swiss team score multiple points at one period of time, simply digging ourselves a very big hole. Sets three and four were much better. We played more consistent and with energy we had yet to play with. We looked more composed and comfortable, and making better decisions and some great defensive moves. Big sparks were Maile Scarpino, headed to Hoffstra University next month, coming in with a lot of defensive energy, and Kelli Stipanovich, University of Arkansas, with strong serving, rallying off a few aces to give us a large lead and eventual win in set three. The set was close for the first half of the fifth set. It wasn¹t until we switched sides once the Swiss were up with 8 points, that they finished off the match. Number 11 on their team was a huge asset for them. She jumped very high and at points was hitting over our blockers. We now know more about the Swiss team, who their big hitters are and how we can gain momentum for ourselves. We hope to play better tomorrow morning against them.
I think our coach Eric said we might have time to explore a little tomorrow, between our match and practice later at night. I am looking forward to seeing more of what Switzerland is like and interacting with the people.
Friday, July 24
Hey everyone! It's been so crazy here in Europe. We have been super busy between playing volleyball matches and sightseeing around Switzerland and Croatia.
On our last day in Switzerland, we had a three hour practice in the morning, went to lunch, and then quickly showered to head into town. We went to Solothurn. If you picture a European town, this would be it. Straight out of picture books, Solothurn was adorable: cobblestone roads, old-fashioned shutters, boxes on the windows full of bright, red flowers! I took so many pictures. I had gelato for the first time. I definitely recommend pistachio!
We continued to walk around for a few hours, walking into chocolate shops here and there. We also saw a beautiful church right in the center of the town. Inside, the ceilings were raised, there were numerous stained-glass windows, and the pews were the original wood from centuries ago.
Around dinner time, we headed back to our training site to eat. We changed into nicer clothes and had a night on the town. It was relatively uncrowded, but we had a blast!
The next morning, we left for Croatia at 6:00 AM. It was the longest bus ride I have ever been on, about 12 hours. I will never again think the bus rides to Ohio during our season are long again! Minus the few bathroom and food stops, we pretty much drove straight through Italy and Slovenia, I think. I still can't believe it was longer than our flight over to Europe! Once we were in Pula, Croatia, we checked into our rooms and headed to dinner and to the opening ceremonies for the Global Challenge. The teams were introduced, and there was a traditional dance to entertain us. The boy playing the instrument couldn't have been more than 12 years old. He was so good!!
The first two days of the tournament went really well. We finished 6-0, beating all of the European teams. Earlier today, we played the Romanian team. We thought our chances to beat them were pretty good, as we had just beat them last night. Bottom line, we didn't show up to play. We lost 3-0.
Since we lost, we had the rest of the day to see Pula. We went to see a Colosseum, some other historic sites, and of course went shopping! I bought a David Beckham jersey from his Milan team. I am not really a soccer fan, but I figured, I am in Europe...I just have to buy a jersey!
Oh, another exciting thing about Croatia. The currency is called Kuna. The exchange rate right now is about 1 American dollar to 5 Kunas! It's so great. You feel like you can buy so much more for the price than you would be able to back home. Any excuse to buy more!
Tomorrow is our last day of the tournament. We are playing for 5th. Afterwards, we have one more night in Pula, and then we are heading to Venice, Italy for a day to hang out. I am really looking forward to some pizza and more gelato!!
Hope everything is going well back in DeKalb! Go Huskies :)
Saturday, July 25
Well, I guess it's back to reality. I am now back in the United States. We ended the Pula Global Challenge with a win! After losing our first match on Day 3, we came back to take 5th place against a Southern California High Performance team. We came out strong and took the match in 3 sets. After losing the day before, I thought we bounced back pretty well. One of the most exciting moments for me was when our bench started cheering "USA" towards the end. It was so exhilarating. I am pretty sure I had chills at that point. Even though we didn't get to the championship match like we had wanted, we had just won for our country. It was a great end to our training overseas.
After our last match, we went back to the hotel to eat lunch. Once I was done eating, I went swimming in the Adriatic Sea with two of my teammates. I had never been in a sea before. It was incredibly salty, almost more so than the ocean. We swam from one side of the sea to the other, jumped off cliffs, and took way too many pictures. This turned out to be a theme for the trip!
Our Bring It Promotions volleyball team from the USA won the championship match. My team went back to the gym to watch and cheer them on. After the match, there was a closing ceremony. Dinner was next, and I was so glad this was the last big meal at the hotel. The food was not the best, and it was much of the same everyday. We ate, changed, and went to the little pool party for all of the teams. We only stayed for a little bit, and then I headed downtown Pula with three of my teammates to shop and get some gelato. There was a rock concert going on in the downtown plaza. American music was being played. The four of us relaxed at an outdoor café before getting a cab back to our hotel.
The last day in Europe was definitely one of my favorites. We took one, final bus to Venice, Italy for a day of sightseeing. It was absolutely beautiful. The pictures that I took around town do not do the city any justice. The buildings were breathtaking! We shopped at the vendors, ate even more gelato (coconut and pistachio turned out to be my favorites), and took a water taxi back to the front of the island. The water taxi was the highlight of our day. The sun was beginning to set, so the lights were starting to flicker as we rode from one side of the island to the other. I enjoyed every minute of our time in Venice. It was a perfect end to our trip.
Unfortunately, our flight to Amsterdam left the Venice airport at 6:25 a.m. My family and I were up at 4 a.m. to pack up, eat breakfast, and take a van to the airport. Two hours of sleep was not my best idea. Luckily, we were only staying a few blocks from the airport, so we saved some precious time in the morning! Our flight to Amsterdam was less than two hours, and then we were off to Chicago on the eight hour trip. This flight went much faster than the first one across the Atlantic. I slept more, and the movie He's Just Not That Into You was playing. I even worked on some of my summer school homework. It's pretty tricky trying to teach yourself geography on a plane ride!
When we landed at O'Hare, I was so glad to be back. I have never been on a trip this long. It definitely feels good be home. I feel so fortunate to have played for the USA in Europe. I still can't believe I had the opportunity to put a jersey on with our country's name on it. I will never forget this experience, and I am incredibly grateful for this trip. I met some amazing volleyball players from the United States and all across Europe. I am looking forward to taking the experiences that I had in Europe back with me to our NIU team. Preseason is only a few weeks ago, and things are looking pretty good for our season. I can't wait to get in the gym with my Huskies teammates!