Many things have happened since the last time I blogged. When I last wrote we had just finished our first week of Grand Prix in China and had three left to go. We traveled to Japan and Hong Kong and won our pools at each location which qualified us for the finals in Macau, China. We were put into pools of 4 and played a round robin tournament for the first three days. We finished 2nd in our pool, after losing to Brazil in four sets, which placed us against Serbia in the Semifinal. We beat Serbia in three which moved us into the FINALS and a rematch against Brazil! Every time we meet up with Brazil it is a battle, they are a great team and bring it every time they step on the floor. Our USA squad came out strong and never let up. We beat them in three and became back-to-back Grand Prix CHAMPIONS!
This was the first time in my career that I have won back-to-back championships. It is definitely a feeling you could get used too! This victory had even more significance though. It proved that we have a great team that can take any team in the world and challenge them. Even at times when all of us aren't firing on all cylinders, we found a way to battle as a team. Every chance we had to score or get a run of points we were fighting till the whistle. What people don't realize is the mental struggle it takes to get through 5 straight matches in 5 days. You have to focus on every point and make sure you are executing at a high level. This month long tournament definitely takes a toll on your mind and body.
When our team spends so much time away from home some of us players get into weekly habits. One of the habits on this last trip was regularly watching Bachelor Pad and Jersey Shore. Since we can't watch these shows live we resort to finding them on the internet. This is our time to get our mind off of volleyball and really enjoy the company of each other. Not only do we have TV nights, we also try to entertain ourselves outside the hotel with things that remind us of home. While we were in Japan and China there were many strolls around the hotel to Starbucks and 7Eleven's. My favorite drink to get at Starbucks is the White Chocolate Mocha. I was first introduced to this drink back in college by my college teammate Tracy Stalls. On this trip I ventured out when my teammate Christa Harmotto came on the bus with a Starbucks in hand, it was the new Mint Mocha. I had never tried it before and she knows how much I crave Starbucks so she offered for me to try it. It was fabulous.
Okay enough about Starbucks.. Let's discuss some secrets of the U.S. National Team.
I would like everyone to meet Filo.
Filo is the stuffed animal of none other than the Captain of our National team Jen Tamas. Filo has been a part of Jen's life since she was five. She said that when she was young she would go to her grandparents house in Iowa and her Grandfather would often go to the Goodwill and buy a bag full of toys for only 5 dollars. He would then come home, move all the furniture in the living room and dump all the toys in the middle for her and all of her cousins to choose from. She said she saw Filo and could not imagine her life with him. After winning a struggle with her cousin that had the same idea, Jen was not going to let Filo go. She said she ran into the bedroom and stuffed him in the bottom of her sleeping bag and would often check to make sure he was still there. Little did she know she would have to be doing the same thing almost 24 years later. Filo travels with us wherever we go because she cannot sleep without him. For her this is her comfort on the road, it is her sense of home. We often like to tease her about this by trying to steal Filo, because we know she cannot sleep without it. There have been many nights of panic from Jen because she can't find him. We find ways to inflict pain on Filo and send Jen pictures with ransom notes attached. We find it very entertaining and it keeps things on the team very light hearted. This is where Jen found Filo one morning after practice... Poor Filo :(
After getting back to California there has been little time for rest. We have been preparing for the Norceca tournament in Puerto Rico. The top two teams from this tournament will qualify for the World Cup in November which is the first tournament that can qualify us for the Olympics. This is a really important time for our team and this is the time that we have all been training for. I know I grew up saying I wanted to play in the Olympics but I never knew the full process it took to actually make the Olympics. We have to finish in the top 3 in the World Cup to qualify for the Olympics.
After the Norceca tournament we get to have a little time at home. I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with family and friends which will include the wedding of some good friends. After the small break we will continue to train and prepare for the World Cup. Then it will be time for me to go back to the frozen tundra, Russia, to join my professional team. I look forward to playing with my teammates over there and competing overseas again.
Dream Big & Never Settle