SUMMER 2017. QUADRENNIAL YEAR NUMERO UNO. #ROADTOTOKYO
Change is a hard thing to deal with for a lot of people.
Even if it’s one little thing.
One little thing just to throw off your routine a few degrees can have serious effects.
This summer with our Canadian Women’s Volleyball Team we not only had some change, we had the most change everdeemed possible. Can I go as far as saying the most change that this program has ever seen at any given time? 2017 was the start of our four-year cycle, a quadrennial, or the first step in a four year-process to qualify for the (Tokyo 2020) Olympics. I was personally entering into my third quad and my ninth year on the Senior Team (how terrifying is THAT!). Looking back to my first summer making the team back in 2008, our head coach Lupo told me that he saw me having a large role within the team for the next 8-12 years. I actually laughed out loud in disbelief and I remember talking to my mom on the phone after that meeting thinking how crazy he was to believe and assume I would (and could) be playing for three Olympic cycles. Jokes on me. Because here I am. From being the youngest player on the National Team for SO long (I had the duty of checking the cooler on every airplane, dragging to and from every practice, filling it up with ice before we left the hotel, for about four years straight), it truly felt like I blinked and became one of the oldest Senior National players still committed to the dream. Still playing with and for the maple leaf on my chest.
So not only did I find myself with a larger role within the team, there was the fact that we were uprooted from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, to the Richmond Oval in Vancouver. The bid committee had worked so unbelievably hard over the last few years to make a competitive bid and 'Bring The Team'. It was a humbling experience having so many people in our Vancouver volleyball community pull together to try and make this happen, try to make our transition easier, and try to provide all the things necessary to foster a competitive, top of the line training environment. Personally, it was a dream come true to come home after living in Winnipeg for so many summers and then have to leave straight to various professional teams overseas. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt returning to Vancouver knowing that this was Team Canada’s new stomping ground. I realize that there are only a handful of players that call B.C. home but I do hope that with our incredible support systems and community in place, everyone will be able to call it home very soon. Our manager Chrissy Benz worked her butt off (and still is to this very day) trying to find the players short and long term accommodations after a key housing-plan within the bid kind of fell through. We were at a hotel within walking distance to the oval during our training camp in May and then most of the selected team was placed with various families in a home-stay environment. Never a dull moment here!Sidenote: we are still looking for apartments / homes / rooms to rent for this coming summer so if you know of any options feel free to send me a message!! We are so beyond grateful for the families who stepped up and took some of our girls in for the summer on such short notice. I know so many of my teammates had wonderful experiences and now will always have a Vancouver-family in the years to come.
The next big change that was implemented this summer is that we received a new coach. Not just any coach but the infamous (I feel like I can give him that title) Marcello Abbondanza. I knew him from his time coaching Fenerbache, one of the most talented volleyball teams in the world that competes in the Turkish and Champions League. They’re always at the top. He also coached the Bulgarian National team for a few years, taking them to the World Championships in 2010 in Trieste, Italy where we actually had our final match against them. It’s funny how when he first got the job and showed up for tryouts a lot of us were doubting and wondering why he actually took it. You think we would give ourselves a little bit of credit after working our butts off for so many years at endless practices and grueling tournaments. But we still doubted ourselves and were left wondering why one of the best coaches in the world was coming to coach us.
That was one of the most monumental things Marcello taught us this summer; we don’t give ourselves enough credit and our volleyball skills are actually just as good as any other top team. Okay then, so why were we losing games we knew we could win? It was all about our internal self belief – something that he quickly brought to the surface, which had us all pretty shocked. We can fake the confidence in ourselves for the most part, quickly sweep the self-doubt under the rug but come push to shove, it wasn’t where it needed to be especially to have huge success at the international level. Our team went through a period of intense and extreme growth this summer, to say the least. The first two months with Marcello were maybe the most intense in my entire volleyball career. Not only were we working extremely hard on court and in the weight room to refine skills, we were also called to shape our mentality, entire belief system, and take our volleyball level/IQ’s to the next level. So through the many uncomfortable and extremely challenging situations both physically and mentally, on and off the court where at times we were sure that our new coach hated us (have you ever had an Italian coach??), Marcello was also teaching us that he believes in us. So if one of the best coaches in the world thinks we’re a skilled volleyball team, why the heck can’t we think that of ourselves?
I’ve said it before but our Women’s National Team has always had difficulties with confidence. It doesn’t matter the quad, it doesn’t matter the team, it doesn’t matter the tournament or what girls are in the meeting, it’s one of our greatest weaknesses. I’m not sure where it comes from, actually. Maybe as women we are constantly trying to measure ourselves up to someone who we think is more skilled than us. More prepared. More naturally gifted. More more more. Thinking that we are less than when of course, that is absolutely not the case. The funny thing is that we believe so wholeheartedly in each other. We don’t doubt our teammate’s skills for a moment. Yet we are so hard on our individual selves that even though we’ve performed the skill a million and one times, come crunch time we are left wondering if we are ready or can execute what we need to. But our teammate? No problem – they’ll perform absolutely. Of course THEY can do it.
Switching gears for a moment, back to the beginning of May: after tryouts our newly selected squad had about a month to train with each other and get used to our new totally-Italian support staff (head coach, assistant coach, trainer, osteopath). This was yet another thing we had to adapt to; having a full European staff kind of felt like an extension of our professional seasons abroad. I think after a while we got settled into our own groove of things and embraced that this is what our National Team would feel and look like from here on in. We got used to the coaches, how they did things, travelling rules, plus the immense amount of work we needed to do outside of the volleyball court. Not sure what I mean by work? Well on our Pan Am Cup and Grand Prix trip, I don’t know if we had more than 20minutes of down time in our respected rooms. We were busy doing our own scouting of each team and sometimes spending upwards of more than five hours in video sessions. But that’s the thing… you think when it gets that hard, when someone is that hard on you, you’re going to curl up and die. Quit. Think it’s not worth it and bow out (which, he said, was perfectly understandably if you didn’t want to continue – no hard feelings). But none of us did. We gave it our all, we adapted to extreme conditions, and in so many examples, rose to the challenge.
After this month of training in the oval we jetted down to Anaheim, California for some practices and a friendly match against Team USA at a high school. The sets were close and I felt like it was a good starting point for our team. From there we trekked down to Lima, Peru for the most grueling tournament: the Pan American Cup. Grueling because you’re playing about eight or nine games in ten days which is a lot for some of these old bodies! I celebrated my birthday in Lima, as I have for the last decade (it always falls on the Pan Am Cup Tournament dates) but by now they’re all kind of blending together – there have been a fair few! But it wasn’t all birthday cake and Starbucks dates – two of our starting players, Marie-Alex and Sarah Chase both went down at the very beginning of the tournament in our game vs. Cuba. I will try not to go off about how infuriating it is when other players come crashing under the net… but oh did we ever feel the grunt of it. So for the most grueling tournament of the summer we were down two players in a 12man roster. Regardless of early tough luck, our team leaned into each other for support and motivation and Giorgio (our then new Italian Osteopath) performed a lot of crack cracks and kinesiotape tape-jobs in order to hold us all together. From there we flew back home, had a quick few days to do laundry and sleep in our own beds, and before we knew it we were back on a plane back down to Argentina for the first week of Grand Prix. We had some early success, beating the home team on the first night in a very intense 5 set match, in which afterwards we somehow found ourselves being THEhalftime show and performing some form of Zumba. Marcello gave the announcer the go-ahead and well, you can't say no to BigBoss. Still slightly horrified that happened.
With some great, successful games in our first weekend we jumped over to Puerto Rico for the second week. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of success which was devastating because we knew we had the ability to go 3-0 as opposed to 0-3. I think after a long previous couple of months our excessive amount of video watching and sleepless nights were catching up with us. I remember feeling so drained on this lag. My roommate Megan Cyr and I were constantly trying to rally ourselves to push through this week as home was just around the corner. For the third week of Grand Prix we found ourselves at home. As amazing as that was, I was struggling hard individually on the mental and physical side of things. I couldn’t lift my arm more than twenty degrees and felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown. Well, it turns out I was because I had booked a doctor’s appointment with a GP at the oval to discuss some other health concerns and at the end of our appointment when she asked me how I was really doing, I burst into tears. Keep in mind this was the first time I had met this woman. I think I scared her a little bit. But this is the battle that so many (all?) of us face each day as a professional athlete. We have A LOT of things going on in our lives that have nothing to do with volleyball. Yet we still have to pick ourselves up and perform… do our job. And my job wasn’t done for another week. So despite not being in the most optimal of spaces, I rallied, looked for comfort in my teammates who were around me, my family, fiancé at the time, friends, and our volleyball community who were all ready to cheer extra loud for our first National Team games in Vancouver. Of course playing at home is a feeling that you can’t quite recreate anywhere else. To know that your loved ones are in the stands supporting you makes all the difference. Germany, Peru, and Czech Republic were in our pool for that weekend and of course my favorite game was our five-set thriller vs. Peru on the Saturday night. I hope it sparked some interest in the younger athletes that were watching on tv or in the stands and that we’ll have many more opportunities to play some matches in various cities on home soil in the future. The volleyball community is so large that I think our women’s team could really have an impact highlighting Canadian Volleyball as well as inspire the younger age groups. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for more opportunities!