We definitely had a much more successful weekend in Leuven, Belgium. Many girls had only been to Europe once or twice before so everyone was pretty excited to mix up the travel itinerary. The flight from Lima to Madrid was as good as it could be; somehow Brittney and I scored the exit row and Byron smuggles us a few pills that we took without question. Bliss. We woke up in Madrid, had a quick layover, and then departed to Belgium. I had only ever been to Brussels 2 years ago to visit Claire (Hanna) and Britt with one of my best friends from home, so I was excited to knock off another Belgian city. Of course, it was adorable. We had a few days before competition to just train and get physical in the weight room and therefore had a few spare hours each day to get out and explore the city. Every time I was out wandering I kept thinking how amazing it would be to live in this city and play pro here. It was the perfect size; it had a great city center but with the typical small-town European vibe. Cathedrals, cobblestone streets, chocolate shops, amazing-looking little cafes and restaurants everywhere… made me pretty excited for this upcoming season. It was also a LOVELY change to actually be in Europe with my Team Canada girls. Usually we are just sharing our various professional experiences via Skype or whatsapp messages so it was a nice change of pace to be together for once. Right behind our hotel there was a lovely square filled with restaurants… and a Starbucks. Cue team coffee addiction. I know many of you are probably judging and thinking why on earth are they going to Starbucks when they have European cafés to indulge in, but as Lucifer put it perfectly, “sometimes you just want a big ass drink from Starbucks that’s bigger than 2 gulps.” Amen. Our first game Friday night we started off against the home team (as usual). Belgium is a really strong team and we ended up losing to them our last game in Peru. We definitely played better against them the second time around but we still couldn’t hold them off and play our game throughout the entire match. Britt had an awesome game against them with 14 kills and our blocking was tremendously better but they were just too solid. We started the second set 8-2 but as quickly as we got the momentum, it shifted and they ended up pushing back for the win. The next day we played Argentina who is always a really fun team to play against. We haven’t played them in a number of years so we were pretty excited to get the chance to compete against them again. I played with their right side, Lucia Fresco, in Germany 2 years ago and against their captain, Paula Nizetich, in the Turkish league this past year so that always adds a bit of extra motivation to win. It felt like we had the control the majority of the game, despite losing the first 2 sets. In the third set we were always down a few points; 18-21 at the end of the set but we ended up battling to win 26-24 and eventually 15-13 in the 5th set. It was an incredible battle and I’m very proud of the team on how resilient we were throughout the entire match. A little change of mind worked wonders and we came out swinging hard and stayed aggressive even when we were point-for-point. Awesome first win of Grand Prix and we definitely did it in style. Beeks had a casual 21 points from the middle (17 kills off 23 sets) and 3 blocks, which came perfectly at the end of the game, Britt and I both had 18 points, and Shanice had 15. Quick turn around the next day… we had a pretty late night coming home and it took a while to finally wind down from the match. Went to practice, had a long video session, and a very fast (necessary) 20 minute nap before gulping down gallons of coffee and departing for our 3pm match vs. the Netherlands. We knew going in that this is a very strong team who have some amazing players. But we decided to go out hard, swinging with nothing to lose. Worked out in our favor because we shut down some of their big guns and ended up winning the first set 25-15. We took them to the 5th set as well and despite playing lights-out all game we lost it a bit in the 5th set and you just can’t do that against the top European teams.
Here are a couple of random things that happened in Leuven.
- While doing a few exercises with our physio in the hallway, Lupo came up to me and was staring at my feet. His comment was that it looked super weird because I wasn’t wearing nail polish and he had never seen that. It’s official… coaches notice everything.
- Everyone got acne in Belgium… apparently that’s a common thing. That’s cool.
- It was Shaaaaaaaane’s (our lovely statician) first time in Europe. His eyeballs were huge every single day and it was so awesome. One night when the coaches were out on the town, he asked the waiter for a special and unique beer, something that he couldn’t get anywhere else in the world. They ended up bringing him the “#1 beer in the world” which ended up costing 13 euros. The best thing about this is that it was said the bottle cap can be sold on eBay for up to 30 euros. They did ended looking this up eventually and well, it was actually selling for under 4 euros. Slight discount.
- Even though I knew the loaded waffles were going to make me feel sick… we ate them anyways. Risk – benefit ratio (low risk high benefit… or is it high risk low benefit?).
- We had a bachelorette night where a few of us die-hards watched the finale in the video room via projector. You have to do it up right. "Sttttaaaaaaaaaaaaaappppppp". We heart Josh!
- One of the nights had a music and food festival in the streets of Leuven! Everyone was out dancing, drinking, and eating… so much fun.
- TC's wonderful sport psychologist, Adrienne, joined us for the remainder of our Grand Prix tour! Awesome to have her around and add a woman on to our staff!
- Tesca also joined us in Belgium as our passing libero. We are now complete.
- Our last night in Belgium we were so exhausted and wanted to get a good sleep because we had time in the morning to head in to Brussels before our flight. As we were heading back to the hotel we passed all the coaches. We were going to bed and they were going to party. That hurt the soul a little bit.
- My physio/friend from Potsdam, Germany came out to visit Lucia and I! Since that year she has met a bunch of our team (as many have played in Germany) as well as the Argentina girls through Luci. When we played each other she stayed neutral… I hope. It was lovely to have her there all weekend!
- I got to see my good friend Kelly Asleson and her boyfriend Alex… they were randomly in Leuven at the same time. Such a small world.
As Monday morning rolled around, a few of us got up early to (grab Starbucks and…) head into Brussels. We weren’t leaving the hotel until just before 3 so we had some time to make the trek via train. As I mentioned earlier I had been to Brussels once before 2 years ago but I surprised myself with still having an idea where everything was – my memory isn’t so great at the best of times so good one, me! We had a fairly decent sized group heading in but broke up fairly quickly. Dana and I were in a deep discussion and eventually realized the other girls were nowhere to be found. In between some cobblestone streets, Lucifer bumped into us and we continued on our way. Just 3 peas in a pod being extra weird in the city of Brussels. Not sure who signed off on that one. We had way too much fun spotting out the peeing boy, which is Lucifer’s new obsession. Had to keep that one in check because continually saying “hey look another one! I love the little peeing boys” was getting a little bit creepy, real fast. Every beer store was a dream. The loaded waffle that was consumed made me feel both extra happy and extremely sad with myself. We didn’t feel like athletes after we ate that, that’s for sure. After our lovely morning spent in Brussels we were at the airport before we knew it. I felt extremely tired and so I thought I would try to combat my feeling of dread with complaining about it… to anyone who would listen. That makes things better, right? In my steady state of delusion and deliriousness I opened my eyes as we were touching down in Madrid and I fully thought we were in Argentina. Epic fail number one. So much sadness. I almost cried AGAIN upon arrival in the Madrid airport when a teammate informed me that we have a 4 hour layover and our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. Pardon? Is this real life right now? Fail number two. Through security, Megan, Janie and I posted up at Starbucks for a while and I worked on my Player Profiles because it makes sense to sit for 4 hours straight when you’re about to get on a plane for the next 12. Cool. Fail number three… I was on fire by this point. I was suppose to be cuddled up beside Lupo all flight but I quickly switched places and was snuggled up to Dana for the next 13 hours. Another 3 hour life chat made the time pass faster and then came Byron handing out the little white pill that knocked most of us out for the remainder of the trip. We are now in Buenos Aires, Argentina about to start the next week of our Grand Prix tour. We play Cuba, host Argentina, and Peru this coming weekend so we should be getting some more W’s to add to the list. We are coming off a pretty successful weekend in Belgium as I feel we finally hit our stride and started to show other people what we are capable of… and prove to ourselves that yes, we can play against the top teams and have success. We missed the chance to head to Poland next week by a few points so this is the last weekend we have of Grand Prix! 3 weeks on the road and we’re still working super hard and gaining awesome experience for World Championships coming up in September. This weekend we’re hoping to bring some of that energy we found in Belgium and keeping going guns out!!