In His Own Words . . .
Day Seven - Final Thoughts
As the trip winds down, we went further north. This time we took the bus to Lake Como. We’ve been doing walking tours but this excursion was by boat. One of the guides pointed out we were only about 5 miles from Switzerland. Lake Como is famous for beautiful villas that are built into the mountains and line the water. The boat took us to the island Bellagio where we were able to go swimming and explore the small town.
Although our own matches were finished, we had a shared service event planned with the women’s team. One of the components of Beyond Sports is to give back to the community. The trips originated in Costa Rica. Last year a softball team went to Africa. There is another group of teams coming in right after us that will follow the same itinerary. Each of these trips having varying levels of service attached to them.
The women’s team faced off against Eldor Volleyball’s under 18 team while we held a short clinic for the 14 year olds. I’m not sure how much we taught them because they were all really talented. It certainly seemed as though that had a good time being on the court with our players. Many of these young girls started playing at the age of 7 while also always playing together.
Here’s a major difference from American Volleyball. First, most kids start way too late. It’s not uncommon for a kid to never have played volleyball before they get to high school. The Italian kids have been training for 5-6 years before they reach that age. That’s so many more repetitions and opportunities to compete. They also always stay together. In the states, if you don’t like your club team, you just try a different one next season. It’s commonplace to play for a different club every year. The Italians have the advantage in that they get to play together from a young age. It’s also much more affordable and gives more chances for players to participate because families can more easily absorb the cost.
I’m still impressed with the worlds ability to speak multiple languages and a few of these girls spoke English well. They were extremely interested in American pop culture and our music.
The match vs. Eldor was close. The women were also playing with the Mikasa ball, but have been all trip so they were slightly more comfortable. There were still some instances where the ball was a factor. The match was a battle of which middles could hit the ball harder. After one particular swing one of our guys said that was the hardest ball he had seen hit all trip, including our matches.
A trend I noticed after watching the women’s game is that the tempo of the offense seems to be slower in Italy. Granted I have a small sample size of four teams, but teams just didn’t set the ball very fast to any position. I think one of the reason we were able to be successful in our matches is because the tempo from the setter to the hitter was not quick. It seems every team out here is running faster and faster, us included.
Another interesting thing they do is use shopping carts instead of ball carts. It is perfectly practical and works just fine, but I think our guys would be shocked if we rolled out a cart from Stop and Shop.
The match vs. Eldor also featured a good amount of spectators. I was expecting fans to be a bit louder, but that must take place more often at the higher levels. In all the matches I didn’t notice much from the crowd, aside from one of our players 81 year old grandmother (or Nani as she prefers since she hails from Italy) who loved to yell “Dilly Dilly” at random times during the match.
The trip was exciting from a historical standpoint while still having volleyball be a major focus. I told the guys on Day 1 that I would be happy to talk as much, or as little about volleyball as they preferred. Quite a few of the guys had questions on philosophy, decision making and wanted to compare/contrast how things are done in my program vs. what they do every day.
I think any coach that gets invited to take one of these trips should jump at the opportunity. Here’s hoping the next time I get invited we’re going to a beautiful Caribbean island.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.