Eurotrip 2015 With USC Sand Volleyball: Part IV

    USC women's sand volleyball team with the mayor of Ljubljana.

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    May 22, 2015

    The national champion USC sand volleyball team is on a two-week trip through Europe (Italy, Slovenia, Austria) to compete in tournaments and indulge in the culture. We will periodically chronicle the trip through the eyes of the players.


    Day 7 (May 19): Alexa Stonish. The Women of Troy went from Italy to Slovenia, making a few stops along the way before putting on a clinic for local coaches and players in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. Alexa details the day.

    Q--How did the day go?

    A--Besides all the time we spent on the bus getting to Ljubljana, it was great. We stopped at Castello di Miramare, a small castle on a cliff above the Adriatic Sea just outside of Trieste (Italy), then we stopped quickly at the main plaza in Trieste to walk around. We then went to Piran, which is a small fishing village on the coast in Slovenia. We all walked around and some went to lunch, while Kelly (Claes), Emily (Young) and I explored. We even went swimming. The water was crystal clear but it was very cold and the ground was rocky. Then we headed off to Ljubljana. We were running late, so we quickly checked into our hotel before heading out to a local sports facility to run through one of our normal practices as Anna (Collier) narrated what we were doing to a group of Slovenian coaches and players who came to watch us.

    Q--How was that practice?

    A--We were pretty fatigued after being on a bus most of the day, but we eventually got out legs and energy and had a high level practice. Anna worked us hard and she was pretty loud, probably to not only keep our attention but to show something to the audience.

    Q--How was the team dinner with the European players who'll compete against USC in the Intercontinental Beach Clash?

    A--It was cool to meet then and mix, and to learn something about their culture and hear their language. It will be fun to play them.

    Q--How has this trip been for you?

    A--I've really enjoyed it so far, despite getting lost several times when Kelly and I walked around in Venice and Verona. Europe hasn't been what I expected. It's not as big as Los Angeles, but it is way older, with so much history to it. It has been a very interesting experience, something that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.

    Day 8 (May 20): Senior Meg Norton. Meg talks about the first day of the Ljubljana Intercontinental Beach Clash (USC leads Europe, 13-11, aided by Norton and partner Eve Ettinger's 3-0 record), plus the team's trip to Lake Bled and dinner with the mayor at Ljubljana Castle.

    Q--How was it playing in the USC versus Europe tournament?

    A--It was really great to play different teams from different countries (Croatia, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Italy) and to experience the different styles of play. We didn't have any scouting reports about the teams we played, so that was unique. Overall, all of the USC teams played really well. We're ready to get back out there tomorrow.

    Q--How is the style of play different for the European teams?

    A--They use a lot of option plays (hitting the ball over on two contacts instead of three) and even bump the ball over on one. And they serve super tough.

    Q--How was your visit to Grad Castle and Lake Bled?

    A--It was so beautiful, especially seeing so many green trees, and the setting was spectacular. The castle is high above the lake with great views. And the lake has a small island with a church on it, making it very picturesque. We took row boats over to it and climbed the 101 steps up to the church. We also had a surprise birthday celebration for Louie Wong, who has accompanied us on this trip with his wife. The most entertaining part of the visit was went the boat's rowers, who stand up in the back of the boat and row with huge oars, let some of our players try to row. It was really hard to do.

    Q--And what about your dinner at the Ljubljana Castle?

    A--The castle is high on a hill in the middle of Ljubljana. It was raining so we couldn't really take in the views up there, except from the bus windows. And it was so nice that the mayor (Zoran "Zoki" Jankovic) took time out of his day to join us at dinner and take photos. We are very grateful for the hospitality being shown to us. The meal we were served was delicious, I loved the sea bass. And it was nice to spend some relaxing time together as a team. That's what is so special about USC, getting opportunities to do things like this.

    Day 9 (May 21): Sophomore Kelly Claes. Kelly, who along with partner Sara Hughes remained undefeated in the Ljubljana Intercontinental Beach Clash (USC continues to lead Europe, 19-17), talks about the tourney's second day, some surprise visitors and sightseeing in Ljubljana.

    Q--How has the volleyball part of this trip been for you?

    A--The volleyball has been fun. It's been a great experience for everyone on our team. European and international players have a different style than Americans. We see it once in a while at home, but it's a totally different game here on their turf. It's different, but interesting. They do things I wouldn't have thought of doing, but that then gives me ideas to incorporate into my play. I've had previous experience playing internationally and I love playing over here.

    Q--You had some surprise visitors today at the matches. Tell us who showed up.

    A--As we were warming up to start the matches this morning, (former USC sand player) Natasa Siljkovic (of Serbia) came in. It was a total surprise to everyone. We all ran over to her and gave her a big hug. She took care of me last year at USC when I was a freshman and showed me the ropes. At dinner, I sat with her. It was great catching up.

    Q--And your other surprise?

    A--Later in the morning during our matches, Dalida Vernier (of Croatia) showed up. She was my partner last year when we won a tournament here in Ljubljana. It was so great seeing her. We had lunch together and caught up. I was so happy to see Dalida.

    Q--You spent the afternoon walking around Ljubljana. What's your impression of Slovenia's capital city?

    A--I love this city. It's one of my favorites. Today was a cold, rainy day and it was quieter in town, but I've been here in the summer and that's when I really love it. When it's sunny, all the shops and vendor stands are open, people are walking around everywhere, things are happening. No matter where you are in the city center, you can look up and see the castle on the hill above.

    Day 10 (May 22): Sophomore Sophie Bukovec. The Women of Troy captured the Ljubljana Intercontinental Beach Clash (25-23) over Europe today, then headed to an overnight stop in Klagenfurt, Austria, en route to Vienna. Sophie talks about the day.

    Q--That was a close, but impressive, team victory over the European teams, not decided until the last match today. Your thoughts on the tourney?

    A--It was great for us to come out with a win, especially after dealing with several injuries (Sophie's hand and Allie's ankle) and the periods of cold, rainy weather. We faced some good European teams. It really showed our team's depth. And it was good to be able to figure out our tactics against European teams who have a different style of play than we normally see at USC.

    Q--You played the entire tournament with a big wrap on part of your left hand, forcing you to block one-handed. How difficult was that?

    A--That definitely was hard at first, but then I got used to it. Blocking is my identity and the strongest part of my game, so doing it with only one hand was a huge adjustment for me. I had to work through it.

    Q--You have a special connection with Slovenia. Talk about that.

    A--My dad was born in Slovenia and raised in Ljubljana, so it was really special for me to be able to visit and play volleyball here. I'm told that a Bukovec (Brigita) won a silver medal in the high hurdles at the 1996 Olympics, so maybe we're related. And my grandfather is from Trieste, Italy, another city we visited on this trip.

    Q--What do you think of Klagenfurt?

    A--We only have a short stay here and it's been raining the whole time, but we did have a chance to walk around a bit. The shops are really cute and quaint, the people are super nice. It's another chance we get to experience a different culture. This trip has been so much fun and we've seen so much. We've been going on a fast pace, much like we're used to during our season at home, but we've seen nice places, our hosts have been nice and we've had great results volleyball-wise. Plus, it's been an awesome team bonding opportunity.