In His Own Words . . .
Day Six - Saturday, June 16
Game Day #3 vs. Yaka Volley. - Before our match, we had a short morning trip to the city of Milan. The city is vastly different than any other destination thus far, simply because everything is modern. The city was quiet because we arrived early, but Milan features high-end shopping and sophistication. Almost all shops and restaurants in Italy have soft opening times. I'm fully embracing the Italian model of not being in a rush. We haven’t arrived anywhere or left any place on time yet. Fine with me.
Game Day 3 was vastly different than the previous two matches. First, we were slated to play a double header, against the same team. The second match was to feature a few stronger guys within the same club. I've been trying to get every guy some playing time during each match. With two matches, I could split up time so the guys could each play a bit more.
Yaka's team was different because they were kids! Most of the players on the team were 16-17 years old. One of their players was 14. Our previous two matches were against adult club teams that featured players that were almost all older than us.
Yaka is one of the top teams in all of Italy for their age range. Even though they were noticeably talented, realistically we should have handled them with relative ease, but here's where things got a little squirrely.
In America, the NCAA plays with a volleyball made by a company named Molten. In our first two matches, we played with Molten balls. Some international volleyball features a ball made by Mikasa. We used the latter vs. Yaka and it went horribly.
Let me try to explain appropriately. Most people know how to drive a car and more often than not it's an automatic. For an American, trying to serve and pass with a Mikasa ball is like being a first-year driver with a stick shift trying to navigate in New York City. You understand what you're supposed to do, but trying to control the vehicle, work the clutch and get where you're going is way too stressful. You probably side swiped a parked car, hit some cones, got lost and burned a hole in your clutch. You will eventually get to the destination, but the journey would be way easier if you were on an open highway with an automatic. That's what it feels like to play with a Mikasa vs. Molten.
Mikasa volleyballs move differently, feel differently and react differently when you contact them. They aren't worse than a Molten ball, just wildly dissimilar. Mikasa balls are also slippery.
Here comes problem number two. Someone didn’t pass along the message of how the rules are governed during a "Friendly." First, there's only one ref. No down ref, no line judges. We haven't had that all trip, so we have been making sure to help out and make calls the up ref doesn't see. Basically, you act truthfully and can overrule the refs call. These guys didn't do that. I don’t blame the kids because that's not what they're accustomed to, but the coaches should have passed along the message.
The ref also decided to call the match super tight. In the first match he made some ridiculous double calls. The ball is slippery as is, the gym was hot and as such our setters had a few balls come out of their hands with questionable spin a few times. Our guys were sweaty and the Mikasa ball is tougher to set when it's a little wet because the surface of the ball is slick (still dealing with problem #1).
If you asked me before the trip in what circumstance I would yell at a ref during a friendly match in Italy I would not have had an answer for you. After he blew the whistle for the 10th time for a double call that was nowhere close to being illegal, I might have slightly raised my voice. The problem was either nobody knew what I was saying or, and this is what I would like to believe, they just chose to ignore me. These coaches were a bit more intense and I understand they wanted to win, but it was a little ridiculous.
In the fifth set, the ref even blew the whistle while our guys were trying to clean up sweat on the court. We weren’t ready, so we lost the point and they didn’t even let us get a replay. It was bizarre. I told myself this was going to be a relaxing trip, but I guess I can't shake my competitive roots regardless of what country I'm in. We eventually lost and took a 30-minute break.
Match two featured a different referee. Someone must have given that guy the message and he was nowhere to be seen for the evening game. We had a few new guys out there, but the same problems with the ball still persisted. It was so frustrating for the guys, one of them told me he wasn't having fun. In the last match a few days prior, he was captain of the hype train.
This match also went to five sets, but this time we pulled out the win. It felt a bit more like relief than excitement, but it's always good to end the day with a win. Yaka didn't have gifts for us, but many of the guys traded jerseys.
Overall we played 18 sets across four matches. We won 11 of those sets and ultimately won three out of four matches. Not bad for a group of guys who have never played together.
Sadly volleyball is over for the tip, but we still have some sights to see and a community service event. Check back in a few days for a recap of events.
Day Five - Friday, June 15
Instead of a bus ride to the next city, we took a boat. Cars aren't permitted in the interesting city of Venice. Once you’re in the city, you have two options for transportation. You can get around by foot, or by boat. Canals line the city and taxis are motor boats.
The first event in the city was a glass blowing demonstration. The demonstrator was amazing. He was wearing flip flops, no gloves and looked extremely calm while sculpting scalding hot glass.
After the demonstration, one of the trip chaperones who hails from Italy gave us good advice, "Go get lost."
Venice is full of narrow streets and little alleyways. It's a great place to explore and is the most unique city I've ever been to.
Day Four - Thursday, June 14
An early morning drive from quiet Monetcatini into bustling Florence set the tone for the day. The streets of Florence are filled with vendors, goods and places to eat.
Florence has beautiful views to go along with the bustle as it's nestled right on the Arno river. Beautiful cathedrals and castles are located both in the city center and just on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge built sometime in the 900s.
After a day in the city, we traveled to play a team called Olimpia de Firenze. Unsurprisingly we were late because of traffic (see a theme here?) but they were gracious enough to give us a bit more time to warm up. The gym was a bit more spacious than the last. They greeted us kindly with water and fruit gummies. The giving of gifts is something not customary when you play against other US teams. After the match they had key chains, wristbands and assorted pies for us to snack on. The language barrier is a bit tough with some of the players, but there's no mistaking their kindness.
We rolled to victory as we won three straight sets. They agreed to play a fourth set. With 15 guys on our roster I've been trying to equally allocate playing time so it was great of them to let our guys get more time. We looked much smoother in this match than we did vs. Isola Sacra. Our guys had a surprising amount of energy and we were hyped the entire match. Both sides seemed to be having fun. The age range of Olimpia was a bit more extreme than in our first match. They brought a few guys off the bench that were a bit more senior, to put it politely. I contemplated putting on a jersey and getting out there, but I didn’t want to embarrass anyone, namely myself.
Tomorrow is a travel day to the beautiful city of Venice and an off day for volleyball. If the team plays as inspired as they did vs. Olimpia, our final two matches will go great as well.
Day Three - Wednesday, June 13
They say Rome wasn't built in a day. I think it probably took so long because you can't go anywhere without hitting massive amounts of gridlock. Did Caesar have horse and buggy issues getting around downtown? I bet he did.
With so much to see we found ourselves back in Rome a second day. This time we went to "Old Rome" which doesn't make too much sense. Everything here is ancient. When the tour guide is talking about important events using BC instead of AD, you know we're in the old world.
The highlight was the Trevi Fountain. They say you throw in two coins. The first is that the throwing of a coin from the right hand over the left shoulder will ensure that you will return to Rome in the future. The second, is for a wish. I threw Wentworth some good luck and wished for a national championship. Check back later to see how that plays out.
After the day in Rome we got back on the Bus due north to the sleepy town of Montecatini. Once there we passed by "Hotel Giglio" so some of my distant cousins must be nearby. The hotels here are rated on by the number of stars, which are displayed on the front of every hotel. Hotel Giglio is only three stars. Step it up family!
Day Two - Tuesday, June 12
The morning was highlighted by seeing the sites of Rome such as St. Peters Basilica and the Colosseum. After touring Rome much of the day we departed for the match later that evening against Pallavolo Isola Sacra . The roads are filled with people on Motorcylces and mopeds that clearly have little care for rules and traffic violations. Giant buses are clearly no obstacle when weaving between lanes. People think driving in Boston is intense. This is next level stuff.