The last verse of Elon’s volleyball poem

You may have read Ana’s popular little verse, which was posted earlier here.  With suitcases packed, Ana and Cali have composed the final lines.  They are below, not quite the stuff of a serious poetry-writing course, but fun and evocative as a chance to capture and digest the group’s experiences.

Here they are, along with this word from the traveling professor to hope that our efforts to write and reflect on this journey have been useful.  Memories fade; words offer our deeper impressions and thoughts.  And they can last longer.  That’s why we can read Dante and know the life of Michelangelo.  Their ideas became words.  May yours always appear so.  This blog, at the very least, will remain in its cyber-status here, chiseled lightly on a marble wall, for as long as WordPress and public opinion allow.

*   *    *    *    *

Our bus is making strange noises as Milan draws near
But have no fear because Antonio is here.
Stepped outside to check that tire.
His braveness is something that would inspire.
Back on the road, safe in our shuttle
Antonio comes in clutch as we dodge that scuttle.
Drawing nearer to Milan, fashion capital of the world
A questionable place to bring nine young girls.
Mom and Dad, we are sorry for the money we are about to spend,
But at least we will be looking good as our journey comes to an end.

Ana Nicksic & Cali Estes

Last day’s march: In the shadow of history

A tour of Milan's historic sites, such as its splendid, Gothic-style cathedral, preceded the final match. Photo: Mary Tendler.

A tour of Milan’s historic sites, such as its splendid, Gothic-style cathedral, preceded the final match. Double-click and examine closely; a saint balances on every spire. Photo: Mary Tendler.

By Glenn Scott

The last full day of the Elon volleyball team’s journey in Italy brought more to learn. 

First came a walking tour of Milan, with its history that began prior to the Romans and interesting elements from just about every century.  Humbling might be a worthy term. Or impressive. 

Our guide walked us through narrow streets, thankfully far away from the crowds of tourists and holiday shoppers, to little-noticed doors from medieval times and stone walls from earlier than that. The dramatic look and circular look-out towers of the castle reminded us that, even though Northern Italy fostered some of the most advanced civilizations, soldiers from competing regions still went on the attack.  The human notes of the Renaissance did not preclude leaders from marching off to war.

To what extent, professors might ask, was the great art and architecture of these eras linked to power and the capacity to accumulate wealth?

At the arena

There was no missing the name of this nice arena. Yamamay is the name of a corporate sponsor.

There was no missing the name of this nice arena. Yamamay is the name of a corporate sponsor.

Later, after a few big thoughts, the team rolled by bus to a suburb of Milan to play its final match against club team Regalati di Sorriso in a splendid dome itself, this one a fine bit of modern sporting architecture.  The Pala Yamamay arena is the civic treasure of the community of Busto Arsizio.  It featured a nice floor, excellent lighting, spacious locker rooms — even a separate practice gym tucked under one side of the dome.

The club team was equal to the arena.  This was a team at the B-1 level — the highest rank below the professional level.  In fact, this was something of a feeder program for the club’s own professional team.  The players were young but excellent. Some were 19, and a couple of them admitted their goal is to reach a pro team relatively soon.

How much do you practice, I asked.

“Every day,” offered one of the stars.  They usually trained, she said, for three or more hours.

The setting and the competition sparked Elon’s enthusiasm.  The team made some errors, for sure.  A few of the club players ripped some wicked, darting serves that kept our passers off-balance.  But Elon responded with some of the most alert defense and bold hitting of the week.  Head Coach Mary Tendler said she was happy with the effort throughout the match.  Maybe it was the lighting, but the group looked sharper than in previous matches.  The competition was that good.

Indeed, it was a sweep, to be expected (25-9, 25-14, 25-16).

They didn’t build Milan’s remarkable duomo in a week, either. 

Spirits were as high as the ceiling as players assembled.

Spirits were as high as the elegant wooden domed ceiling as players assembled.

Is speaking English enough for interested Americans?

By Danielle Smith

Throughout our adventures across Italy, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a language barrier. It has been difficult and also frustrating trying to communicate with the Italians. Although, the very few Italians who don’t find us frightening can speak a good bit of English.

This sign outside an arena promoted match with Elon.

This sign outside an arena promoted match with Elon.

In most countries, children are taught a second language during their grade-school years.  Despite that, U.S. public schools often don’t even start foreign language instruction until high school (around age 14). Most schools require two years of foreign language. The instruction is usually not very rigorous, and many colleges consider a year of high school foreign language instruction to be equivalent to one semester.

During the past few days, I started questioning why kids in the United States aren’t taught a second language. Is it because Americans are self-centered? I mean, let’s point out the obvious. In almost every store we entered, American music was playing.  People here also knew just about every American celebrity.

Only the names have changed.

Only the names have changed.

Now, see if you can name an Italian celebrity or even know the tune to a popular song in Italy; chances are you can’t. Just look at the news. Most of the information given on network TV news is usually about the United States, and maybe five minutes are taken to speak about foreign affairs. Sounds a little selfish, doesn’t it?

In defense, English is the most widely spoken second language and is commonly used as a medium for the global flow of information and news.  So maybe our reliance on English isn’t all about being selfish.  But it would be nice to talk with more people here.

Cemetery in the sky: Finding peace at the top of a Cinque Terre village

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A steep hike brought players to pensive moments on this hilltop cemetery.  Photo: Maggie Reichard.

By Kris Harris

As the journey is approaching its close, I continue to take in this fascinating country. From the vast lakes, to the wondrous castles perched high on top of mountains, to the richly colored, historic architecture that is a staple of Italy, I fall more and more in love with this country every day. Don’t even get me started on the food.

Staring curiously out the window of the bus rolling over a bridge suspended in the partially clouded mountains, I feel as if we are seamlessly gliding through a scene out of the movie, “Avatar.” It doesn’t look real. I felt this way yesterday as well on the boat from the Cinque Terre village of Fortovenere to one of the other villages, Monterosso.

Stone to Sea

As part of a national park, the landscape was picturesque. The towering, tree-covered mountains rose straight out of the waters of the Ligurian Sea. You could see the curving layers of rocks that made up the cliffs, proving these mountains have been there for a very long time, made when tectonic plates collided.

A steep scene from the back porch along Cinque Terre.

It’s a steep first step from the back porch.

We passed a few of the Cinque Terre villages.  As I stared at the colorful, peaceful look of the villages I wondered how the houses didn’t fall of the cliffs. Literally, one of the villages we passed, there were houses on the ledge of a cliff. If you hung a piece of clothing out the window to dry and didn’t secure it properly, it was a goner. On the boat ride, a few of my teammates and I joked about how many sports balls must have been lost from kids playing and the balls escaping down the cliff.

When we were in one of the villages, Chelsea, Maggie, Ana, and I decided to explore the top of one of the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, following the trail was a long, calf-burning climb. But once we reached the top, it was heaven — seriously, it was a cemetery. We wanted to find a view overlooking the sea and the village, so we were determined to keep climbing through the cemetery, absorbing our surroundings as we went.

Hilltop Surprises

We found a mausoleum for the Ferrari family, which we choose to believe is the same family that first made the car.  Other shocking surprises: A 3-year-old boy’s tomb and what looked like a witch’s broom. I turned a corner and found more stairs that led to the very top. It was one of the most gorgeous sites I have seen so far. There were flowers blooming, trees growing, and tombstones on top of a cemetery building on top of a mountain.  In one of the corners awaited a rusted, metal, elaborately decorated cross.

It was a breathtaking sight, something you would think you’d only see in a movie. On our way down, the four of us were still awestruck, and a little rushed since we only had a few minutes before we had to get to the bay if we didn’t want to miss the boat back. But even as we were complaining about the hard climb and about the fact that our legs were still shaking from the steep hike, we were all internally grateful for our quick glimpse of heaven.

Sharp contrasts in views of famous places

By Maggie Reichard

Firenze and Porto Venere:  These are two towns that have allowed me to experience beauty in very different ways.

When I first arrived to Firenze I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of people, especially tourists, who roamed around, shopped, took pictures, and ate at cafés and restaurants. When I stepped off the bus, all I saw were endless amount of stores, and tons of very fashionably dressed locals and visitors.

After touring around for several minutes, however, I began to understand why this particular city appeals to so many people from different areas of the world. It is artistic, rich in history and culture, and home to a stunning bridge, Ponte Vecchio. What stood out most to me about Firenze is that despite the fact that the city is ancient and constantly packed with people, it is well maintained and clean.

Chelsea and Maggie check the water at Porto Venere.

Chelsea and Maggie check the water at Porto Venere.

Porto Venere was the perfect place to visit after walking around Firenze for an entire day. While in Firenze I was surrounded by churches, statues, restaurants, stores and lots of people.  In Porto Venere, I was surrounded by salt water, a sea breeze and spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. Visiting Porto Venere was like taking a breath of fresh air.

No matter where I looked, I always found myself staring at something amazingly beautiful, such as waves crashing into the shore and historical churches and colorful towns built into cliffs.

Dancing in the street somewhere in Italy

By Cali Estes

It is our last night in Montecatini as our amazing trip is nearing the end we finished dinner, and some of the girls and I decided to walk around town. We changed our clothes and headed out the door of the hotel.

It is a Saturday night, and the streets were much busier then usual.  A lot more people were out.  Ana, Meg, and I were walking down the sidewalk and heard very loud music a few blocks down. Now, if you know anything about this team, you already know that as soon as we hear music, we are there!

We quickly arrived to the scene of the aggressive dance beats and saw that it was basically an outdoor dance class.  An instructor was dancing, and a man who acted like the MC encouraged people to jump in and follow the lady’s lead. This was obviously all in Italian, but we decided this was an open invitation to join the fun.

Before we knew it Danielle, Chanelle, Chelsea, and Kris had followed our lead and began dancing as well.  People surrounded the streets and watched as we jumped, kicked, shimmied and shook the night away. We danced for a solid hour. The MC liked our team.  Once he realized we spoke English — and I told him we were Americans — he began chanting “U-S-A” over the microphone.

We joined in, along with the massive crowd. It was almost a surreal moment as we danced in the middle of the street in a town somewhere in Italy with all of us laughing so hard we were out of breath.

It was a picture perfect way to end our time in Montecatini, and we could not have enjoyed ourselves more. We are so excited to head to Milan tomorrow and play our last game in Italy. We have some last-minute shopping and a few more rounds of gelato to eat before we head back to America, but it’s safe to say we are not ready for this incredible experience to end!

Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married

By Chelsea Rafetto

Wedding party

Wedding party

While writing in my personal notes, I have said every day that each city is my favorite, and the coastline called Cinque Terre is no different.  So far it has been the most beautiful place, composed of five mini towns with views I have only dreamed about.

Bride and groom inside marble church.

Bride and groom inside marble church.

The church in Porta Venere (at an entrance to the five towns) was absolutely beautiful, which I have found to be a trend in Italy.  But the difference here:  A wedding was going on!

Naturally, I got overzealous and wanted to see the bride’s dress, know all of the wedding details, and also go to the reception. Her dress was stunning, but I could not figure out the details or attend the reception.

While on the boat tour to see the other coastal towns, we saw another bride in the distance.  This sparked an idea to get married there myself. Dad, get ready to spend some cash-money!

People applauded as the bride stopped at a cafe.

People applauded as the bride stopped at a cafe.

EUVB taking Italy: Coming to a close

By Catherine Head

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We saw tower from all angles.

Thinking about our trip this past week, it amazes me how much we have done in seven days. We’ve experienced many long bus rides, boat tours and, of course, shopping events, along with many other tours and city visits.

It has been so much fun traveling around seeing the beauty of Italy with my team, but I can personally say I miss home. As all of my team knows, I am a homebody, and missing my parents comes to no surprise. Even though I am ready to be home, I will cherish the memories of this trip for the rest of my life.

Looking back on the past week, I think Pisa was probably my favorite day. Not just because I finished most of my family gift shopping, but because we I visited an amazing place. I never knew exactly what the Leaning Tower looked like because I had only seen it in pictures. It seemed smaller than I expected. But considering what the tower has been through, and yet it is still be standing, is awesome in itself.

Catherine, left, considers tour guide Carlotta's perspective.

Catherine, left, considers tour guide Carlotta’s perspectives on Pisa’s history.

Learning about a little bit of the history of each of the cities we have visited is interesting to me as well. My Dad will probably find this odd because I tend to avoid history experiences but this is not the case on this trip. Knowing that some of the buildings that I have set foot in this trip were built as early as the twelfth century blows my mind. I have learned some Italian history before this trip, but to actually encounter the cities or buildings makes it that much cooler.

A new team with its own friendly label

After a rough start, our Elon volleyball team gained some rhythm but still lost its match with the Montesport club team, 3-1 (25-10, 25-16, 20-25, 25-10).

The good players (mostly) wore white.

White was right.  The liberos supplied the color.

It takes time, given the situation, to get accustomed to very different circumstances, including the rubberized ball used here.  First set saw a lot of ball-control errors.  More important is that the seven-player squad (two others are recuperating from injuries) regrouped and found a better tempo in the last two sets, with nice plays and some bigtime swings.  The fourth could have gone either way.

This was perhaps the most delightful match yet.  The mayor of Montespertoli  gave a welcome speech and handed out bottles of red wine with the label carrying the team photo of the club team.  It may be that the bottles were part of a celebration.  Players cheerfully explained afterward that theirs is a new team, and the match with Elon was the first ever.  They were excited.

They have been practicing up to five days a week. Never hurts.

Warm-ups in the new gym.

Warm-ups in the new gym.

Once again, the locals were quite good.  The two setters, particularly, were solid.  Michela Buiatti, 21, the starting setter, said she works training younger players when she is not training herself.  That showed with her flawless technique.  She doesn’t attend college.

The other setter, Alessia Gagli, is a science student at the University of Florence.

Montespertoli is a small community in the vineyard-rich hillsides of Tuscany.  It has several new structures.  The wine business must be good.  Here is a link to a Google Earth map.  Not sure you can see it, but let’s try.  The rectangular building at the top of the community is the gym, which was quite nice for volleyball.

— GS

Enjoying the chance to connect with language

By Maggie Reichard

I’ve been in Italy for four days now and have probably spent about 90 percent of my time here sipping on cappuccinos and munching on pasta, pizza and prosciutto.

Even the fast food looks good.

Even the fast food looks good.

I have enjoyed each and every single one of my meals here. After eating in dining halls for the past four months, every bite of food I’ve taken in Italy so far tastes like glory. The food here is light, fresh and simply delicious. 

In addition to trying different foods, I’ve had the opportunity to visit multiple places, including Switzerland and the republic of San Marino. This means that in four days I have visited three different countries, something I never thought I’d do! For the first time in my life, I’ve constantly been surrounded by people who speak a language that I can’t speak.

Although I know a lot of my teammates are occasionally frustrated by this, I have absolutely loved every second of it. Italian is surprisingly similar to Spanish; I’ve discovered that when enough effort is put into a conversation, I can communicate with locals in a strange mix of Spanish and Italian. Communicating with random locals I meet has definitely been one of the most valuable experiences for me on the trip. Taking a part in conversations where people work together to overcome language barriers and get to know each other is exciting!

Marooned in Italy with plenty of attention

By Cali Estes

“Ciao, Bella!”  This is a greeting so familiar now that I fully intend to hear it even when we return to America.

I’m not sure what it feels like to be a celebrity, but being tall, athletic, 20-year-old females in Italy will do wonders for your confidence! I have had a magical time because being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and tan in Southern Europe is basically the equivalent of wearing a massive billboard on my head saying, “Look at me!”

Cali draws a crowd: These Italian tourists (all men) in San Marino were more than happy to ask Cali and friends for photos. Photo: Glenn Scott

Cali draws a crowd: These Italian tourists (all men) in San Marino were more than happy to ask Cali and friends for photos.  Photo: Glenn Scott

It’s as if Italians can smell my fear and immediately know I am American and do not fit in here. That’s before they realize I don’t know a word of Italian or any other second language. Today, I was asked to be in a photo with seven Italian men.  I agreed but drew the line when he asked to take a picture of us kissing. (Don’t worry, Dad. I’ve seen the movie Taken!)  Our driver, Antonio, suggested I start charging people to take pictures with me. After pondering this thought over night, I have decided I just might have a fall-back plan if nothing works out for me after senior year. Not only am I learning a lot and eating a lot, I’m setting life goals.

After visiting the chocolate factory, wine tasting and climbing a castle, I have learned so many things about such a beautiful country — and also that we’re all regarded as a pretty team. You’re welcome, Elon, for representing you oh so well in our full maroon gear while still looking good.

Always living the maroon life!

Heading to Pisa: Then came the rains

By Tina Readling

“Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall.” I know neither who spoke those words nor what inspired the thought behind them, but perhaps this person had visited a land across the globe as we are doing and experienced a day like we had today.

A couple of hours into our drive toward Pisa, the clouds in front of us that had been promising different weather for today made good on that promise. As I stepped from the rest stop filled with our fellow tour bus travelers – some Japanese, Chinese and Korean visitors – the drops began to fall. As I quickened my pace to the bus, I detected a familiar smell that caused me to pause, close my eyes and breathe in a little more deeply.

In my youth, my mother would wash our bed sheets and then hang them to dry on the clothesline outside. Of course, she tried to bring them in before a thunderstorm came to soak them, but every once in a while, she would not get them in on time and the afternoon rain would gently dampen the linens again. Of course, eventually the clouds would disperse and the sun would peep through to warm the sheets and dry them fully. When we finally brought the sheets in to fold them, I remember often pressing my face into the fluffiness to inhale the fresh scent of an afternoon rain that always seemed to remain within the folds of the sheets.

As with every memory, this one stirred up even more images and feelings within my mind and heart – fun summers staying at home with my mom and sister, the dreaded trips to slave in the garden picking string beans and corn, the delicious aromas smoking from the grill at our cookouts.

How strange to be here in Italy at a rest stop – in a foreign land surrounded by people who are foreign to me and to the land itself — yet to have these familiar feelings and thoughts brought on simply by the sensation of water dripping from the sky.

The past several days of our journey through Northern Italy have brought us breathtaking mountain views, exquisite local cuisine and quaint cultural experiences, leaving us quite elated and slightly out-of-touch.  But into everyone’s life a little rain must fall.  And with this gentle Italian rain comes the equally gentle reminder that, even in this place of the unfamiliar, we can find familiar things that help to bind together our roots and our new experiences.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Through the looking glass: I spoke, I gestured, they smiled

By Tina Readling

After declaring publicly my intentions to stop “staring through the looking glass” and to reach out more purposefully to the Italians whom we encounter on the rest of this trip, I believe a follow-up on my recent progress would be in order. Leaving my pride in my suitcase and embracing my sparse, gesture-ridden Italian, I determined to make the most of my time here. My expectation in reaching out was that I would seem to be more of a gracious visitor rather than a spoiled American expectant of catered treatment.

My first attempt to engage a local came a couple nights ago after our match. We returned to the hotel late and were all headed up to our rooms. As I walked through the lobby, I smiled at the two attendants behind the front desk. They returned the smile, and I thought, “Here’s your chance. Don’t just say ‘ciao’…say ‘good evening’…in Italian though. What is that word?” Instead of simply walking on by because of my absolute failure to come up with the ending of the Italian word for “good evening,” I plowed on forward, and out loud said, “Buona-a-a-a…what is it? ‘Good evening’? Buona-a-a…?”

An English moment: Tina, right, with tour operator Charlotte.

An English moment: Tina, right, with tour operator Charlotte.

The two kind fellows smiled; then one of them chuckled and said, “Sera. Buonasera.” “Buonesera!” I repeated to them with a smile and a gesture that I felt conveyed apologies for my forgetfulness. They chuckled and smiled. Thus began my efforts to make a better connection with our lovely Italian hosts.

My mission continued the next morning when I happened to catch the hotel elevator at the exact time as our Italian bus driver. I stayed away from the easy cop-out “ciao” and went with “buongiorno” (good morning). He smiled and repeated my greeting. Feeling quite brave (and quite wanting to avoid an awkward ride two floors to the lobby in utter silence) I attempted to ask him if he slept well. He looked like he was trying to understand me, but then he simply laughed and shrugged. Not willing to give up, I tried to explain that I had slept poorly. Again, he shrugged and laughed. Oh, well. Not a great start, but at least I was making an effort.

Antonio, our bus driver.

Antonio, our bus driver.

That morning we headed to a winery in Parma to taste several world-renown products from that area, including their delicious parmigiano reggiano. Since our host spoke to us in quite excellent English, before we left I decided to try to engage one of the other winery workers in a conversation utilizing the two precious tools at my disposal: my Italian vocabulary (four or five words at best) and – what I imagine to be – some fantastically over-the-top gestures. In not being afraid to speak and ask questions, I actually earned a “where are you from?” Since I knew that the workers knew we were American, I responded with, “North Carolina. In the South. Thus the accent.” He smiled and laughed. I have absolutely no idea if he understood what I meant or knew where North Carolina is located; however, there was a connect of conversation that occurred only because I reached past the boundaries of my language inadequacies in order to engage one of our gracious hosts.

Upon arrival at our match later that night, I continued to attempt to show an interest in our Italian hosts by smiling and being friendly to everyone I saw – even if utilizing only a simple “ciao.” I have no major conversations to report from the gym; however, I did attempt to express my appreciation to one of the opposing coaches by saying more than simply “grazie.” I am not sure what exact word came out of my mouth. but it was some sort of Spanglitalian form of “appreciative” (that is what language I speak here — Spanish, English and Italian combined). The coach seemed to understand my sentiments or at least he accepted them. Also, a 14-and-under volleyball team from the same club that we played was being honored for winning a championship, and I caught the young girls as we were leaving to tell them “Congratulations! Good job!” They understood (my two thumbs-up gesture probably drove the point home) and responded with “You, too!”

These small interactions of mine would be less suited for a video of “How to Communicate with Italians,” and more suited for a video of “How to Make an Italian Smile.” Nonetheless, I am marginally pleased with my efforts to inject myself into the culture and the people here in Italy. While these Italians may not see me any differently – they may still see a spoiled American – I hope that they will at least remember that I attempted to connect – that some American lady made an effort to step through the looking glass to experience part of their world.

Ode to Italy: An original rap

By Ana Nicksic

EUVB is taking Italy by storm
Steppin into Europe, saying ‘deuces’ to the dorm
Sittin in Italy, hanging with the crew
So many shops and things that we must do
Like walking up mountains or buying sunglasses
Or watching Cali getting swarmed by the masses
Bus rides are long, but Antonio keeps them poppin’
Falling out of our seats when Antonio starts a-stoppin’
No cellphones or communication without wifi
I was going through withdrawals, thought I was gonna die
I realized it was not that bad after day two
And now talking to my teammates is all I want to do
Now here’s a quick shout out to Tami and Steve
It is awesome here, and I don’t want to leave
But I wish you were here with me because I really miss you
I can’t wait to see you and I really love you too.

(More rhymes to come…)

Absent the details: On the road again

By Megan Gravley
Bus loadingWe’re sitting on the bus, once again, en route to a new destination (Lucca, I think). Being on a bus for a substantial amount of time can be a challenge, for instance when we’re making the haul to Samford or Georgia Southern, especially when one is over six feet tall (as the majority of us are). But sitting on this bus as it cruises through Italian interstates and back roads makes it much easier to bear. I can look out my window and see a panorama of the snow-capped Alps or the burnt orange roofs of local homes.
This bus ride has made me realize that I can’t pinpoint today’s date. I can honestly say that I have absolutely no idea what day of the week it is, let alone the specific date. If someone asked me the time, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t know that either.
house sceneI think that is thrilling, though; going through the day not knowing he date, the day or the time. The absence of our convenient American technology during the day, i.e. our iPhones, seems to be the culprit. As much as it pains me to say it, being without that distracting connection is nice. I don’t have to worry about texting anyone back (sorry, Mom) or performing the constant scroll through my social media feeds. Sure, Ill be excited to gain full use of my phone once I’m back in the states, but it’s absence is nice for now.

Match No. 2: Fatro Ozzano VIP

By Glenn Scott

The gym was better, the net tighter and the lights were brighter, but the opponents were tougher in the second match of this ultra-road trip.  Elon grabbed some quick starts, but the steady players from the club team from Ozzano pulled ahead in each set and won the match 3-0 (26-24, 25-19, 25-20).

It was a friendly, for sure.  The leaders of the regional volleyball federation invited us into their office space for sandwiches prior to the match. Georgio Gambi, the president of Pallavolo Ozzano, beamed about the district’s 14-and-under girls squad that had just won third place in the Italian national championships.  The referee was a generous fellow, too, and handled all of the the chores.  No second ref or linesmen.  Players mostly had to call their own touches.  We might observe that Elon was a bit friendlier in that regard. But overall, the interaction was worthy of the experience.

Through the net:  A real moment of friendliness before the match began.

Through the net: A moment of friendliness before the match began.

The home court belonged to the athletic hitters from Ozzano, who kept up the pressure on serves and spikes.  Afterward, I talked with two sisters who were among the better players on the Italian side.  They said their team, made up of players from the area, has been together for six or seven years.  They intend to play for another 10.  It’s a big part of their lives.

Danielle and Cali put up a double block. That blue an gold blur is the ball moving cross-court.

Danielle and Cali put up a double block. That gold blur is the ball moving cross-court.

How Teams Develop

Italy’s club system is a good study for us.  As in many other nations, adult team sports don’t channel through colleges like ours do in the States.  Many of the better kids now on that winning 14U team likely will work their way up to the adult club team, just as the current players did.

That means teams develop in a cohort rooted in their districts.  They don’t split apart to start over on college teams.  Michela Grasso, the 20-year-old outside hitter, said she attends a local university and majors in fashion.  Older sister Giulia, 23, majors in physical education — a middle blocker who specializes in the study of gymnastics.  That’ll keep her in shape.

They said Elon was the third visiting U.S. college team their club has played in the past three years.  No surprise:  Ozzano won all three.  “This team was the best,” Giulia offered, looking over at the Elon players, who were packing up.  She liked them, liked the way they played and acted.

The Grasso sisters.

The Grasso sisters: Giulia, left, and Michela.

The Phoenix players were not happy about the way they played, but they’re learning and adjusting.  This is way outside their routine — just as it should be on a journey like this.

Pretty soon, that floaty-swervy international ball they’re using is going to begin to seem almost as normal as straciatella gelato.

It’s all in the education.  Now I’ll yield to give our own players the chance to share their education from their perspectives.