Eurotrip 2015 With USC Sand Volleyball: Part V

    The USC women's sand volleyball team in front of Vienna's Schronbrunn Palace.

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    May 25, 2015

    The national champion USC women's volleyball team just concluded a 2-week trip to Europe (Italy, Slovenia, Austria) to compete in some tournaments and indulge in the culture. We periodically chronicled the trip through the eyes of the players and coaches. Here is the final installment.


    Day 11 (May 23): Sophomore Sara Hughes. As we wind down our trip, Sara looks back not only on all she has experienced on the trip but she talks about visiting Vienna and her special connection to Austria.

    Q--You've been excited from the start of this trip to get to Vienna. Why?

    A--I have family here. My great grandmother was born in Austria and raised here before she came to the U.S. when she was 18. I have a bunch of second cousins here who I've never met. When they heard I was coming here, they wanted to meet me. So my grandma and my aunt flew here today and are picking me up tomorrow to go visit relatives. I'm staying another week here to visit everyone.

    Q--What's your impression of Vienna.

    A--I love Vienna. I especially liked when the bus pulled into the city and we drove around to see all the old, famous buildings like Parliament. It was raining all afternoon, but we walked around. We went to the main square, and did some sightseeing and shopping. We walked all around the old part of Vienna and took pictures. We went to Café Demel and I had the best "cold" hot chocolate I've ever had. I'm excited to see more of Vienna with my family.

    Q--You played well on this trip. Talk about how the volleyball went for you.

    A--It was amazing that Kelly (Claes) and I were able to go undefeated through the entire trip, both in Bibione and Ljubljana. Fortunately, we are used to playing foreign teams because we've both played internationally before, so we knew the level of competition we'd face. I loved the Bibione tournament. It was huge, with lots of people everywhere on the beach. And it was fun to play against an Olympian in the final. When I went out for the coin flip, I saw she had the Olympic rings tattooed on her wrist, so that was pretty cool. As for Ljubljana, I really enjoyed it because it was more of a team effort. At first, we thought it might be another individual competition, but it was USC versus Europe, so it was fun to cheer on our teammates and support each other. So although both tournaments were different, they both were like our national championships, but only in Europe

    Q--Summarize your experience on this trip.

    A--It's been an amazing trip. When I usually travel internationally, I only play volleyball and then hang out in my hotel room. I don't get to sit and relax at a café or see the sights or be with friends. This trip has changed my perspective on traveling. I love the European lifestyle. It's more relaxing than ours. The people here are very friendly and everywhere we've gone has been beautiful. It's a lot different in a lot of ways from California.

    Day 12 (May 24): Head coach Anna Collier. Anna recaps the trip, including a special visit for her to Vienna.

    Q--Why is Vienna so special to you?

    A--My grandparents are from Vienna and I even located the house my grandmother lived in before she came to America. So coming to Vienna gave me a sense of coming home because my family is from here. The food is what really reminded me of home because it was food my grandmother would cook, very comforting food to me. All I've eaten since I've been in Vienna has been wiener schnitzel! I really enjoyed going to the opera (Cinderella at the State Opera House) on Saturday night. We bought standing room tickets for 4 Euro and stood in the back, just like I used to do when I lived in Vienna while studying aboard as a USC student. That was fun. And seeing the Lipizzaner horse show and visiting Schronbrunn Palace and the gardens there. Then, just walking around the city, it felt like I was a student in Vienna again. Knowing that my ancestors walked around here for a long time really gave me a sense of home and history.

    Q--What did you think of your team's performance in Europe?

    A--We played really well and I was proud of each of them. Some of them will play internationally in the future, so it was important for them to see different styles of play and to adjust to those styles. And it was important for them to realize there isn't just one way to play the game like we do in America. In Europe, they use a different ball, they make their calls in different languages. And they hit the ball over more on one and they use the option play more because those are very common ways for getting quick points here. That's not a cheap way of playing, it's intelligent, so it's important that our players learn this. We also saw over here that they dig many more balls and they cover way better here and set really well even if the pass isn't perfect. Those are all things we've talked about all year, but there's no better way to learn international volleyball than to experience it. Finally, I thought it was great for them to see how popular the sport is in Europe, like the thousands of people playing in the Bibione tournament.

    Q--What do you think your players got out of the trip culturally?

    A--They all really enjoyed the trip and they experienced so much of the culture, but I believe three things in particular will stay with them: 1.) meeting all the European players, talking with them, exchanging ideas, sharing meals; 2.) eating the local foods; and 3.) seeing the sights, not so much the churches and museums and plazas, but things like the Austrian Alps or the Italian beaches, all the scenery we saw on the bus rides.

    Q--How appreciative are you that your team was able to take this trip?

    A--There are many people I'd like to thank for giving our players this once-in-a-lifetime experience. First, Pat Haden and Donna Heinel allowed us to pursue this opportunity. We had a wonderful tour guide in Federica Tonon, an Italian beach volleyball player who still has a great game and who made the logistics of our trip so easy. It was nice to have Britta Bothe of USC's German Studies department along to help provide context and background to the many places we visited. And I'd like to give a special thank you to all those supporters who made this memorable trip possible by their generosity, including three who accompanied us, Louie and Mary Jo Wong and Sue Cimbaluk. We all had so much fun together.