July 7, 2014
Sophomore Abby Cole (Grand Haven, Mich./Grand Haven) recently returned to Ann Arbor after playing for the U.S. Collegiate National Team in the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships June 22-July 1 in Minneapolis, Minn. The program, considered a second tryout for the U.S. Women's National Team, divides the 36 athletes participating into three 12-player teams (Red, White and Blue). Cole talks about the experience in Minnesota on and off the court and how, even in a short time frame, the group meshed into a team.
On Sunday, June 22, I departed for Minneapolis to begin a new adventure as a member of the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team. Even though I was excited to be a part of this program, I was apprehensive because I had just been cleared to play following a six-week recovery from major jaw surgery. When I first arrived, I was shuttled to a dorm at The University of Minnesota. My roommate at the dorms was Hannah Deede, a senior from Western Oregon University. Hannah also played opposite (right side).
I was one of 36 collegiate volleyball players chosen for the program, and it was very humbling to be in a group of top athletes from around the nation. It was fun getting to know Hannah and the other USAVCNT girls. Hearing about each of the different schools everyone attended, as well as the similarities and differences with the volleyball programs at their schools, was very interesting -- and made me thankful that I go to Michigan. In fact, one girl asked where I went to school, and when I told her, her response was priceless, "Wow! You are so lucky. That's such a 'dream school' -- you must love it."
I do love it, and I'm very proud to be a Wolverine!
For those first five days, we ate in the dorm cafeteria. The training was done at a very nice facility on Minnesota's campus and was challenging. I was pushed by both the coaches and the other players, and learned much more than I thought was possible in that period of time. Some of the drills we did were not at all familiar to me, and others were very familiar -- as we do them during our practices back in Ann Arbor. On Wednesday, we were broken up into three teams -- Team Red, Team White, and Team Blue. The coaches did a "draft", and I was picked by Marci Sanders and Ben Lee to be on team Red. Marci is the head women's coach at The University of Texas at Dallas, and Ben coaches at the Arizona Storm Volleyball Club. Both of them were very knowledgeable about the game of volleyball and helped me grow not only as a player, but also as a person.
On Thursday, we had a morning session at the facility on campus, packed up what we had in the dorms, and took a train through Minneapolis to the bustling downtown area. As we were walking through the city, we passed street performers, farmers markets, and countless random by passers -- all of which would stop and stare at us, making comments like, "That must be the Olympic team!", or, "Wow, they're all so tall -- must be volleyball or basketball!" Those comments and questions kept it interesting, but they also made me realize that wearing USA on your back means that you need to act a certain way. We worked to act in a way that will reflect positively on not only the USA Volleyball program, but also on our country as a whole. This position of influence was very humbling.
Marci, one of our coaches, stopped to take a closer look at one of the farmers markets we passed, and instructed us to keep walking towards the hotel. Later, she caught up, and gave each of us a beautiful red rose. She told us that even though this experience is focused on volleyball, we need to build relationships and get to know one another. She brought up the classic sports film, "Remember the Titans", specifically the scene where the coach tells each of his players that they wouldn't be able to practice until they got to know each of their teammates. This, of course, was not the case for us, but she was making the point that she wanted us to really try and get to know each other on a deeper level -- and we did. Our team grew very close over our limited days, and we plan on staying in touch. Our chemistry carried over on to the court, as well. We gelled very well for only having a couple of team practices prior to competition. We made it to the finals, and lost in four games.
This was an incredible experience, and I am very thankful for having the opportunity to play on the USA Collegiate National team. From this experience, I have grown as an athlete, as a teammate, and as a person in general. Now, I look forward to our 2014 season to begin in August.
Contact: Kent Reichert