Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Dream Come True: My Tryout for Team USA

by Jackie Napper, UK defensive specialist

Hey everybody! I'm gonna start off with introducing myself since I'm new to this whole blog thing. First thing first, my name is Jackie Napper and I'm a sophomore at the University of Kentucky. I was lucky enough to get chosen to intern this spring with AVCA! In addition to my internship at the AVCA on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, I’m also busy juggling classes, practices, morning workouts, and attempting to fit a little "me" time in every now and then. 

This past weekend was a little different than most weekends for me and it all started with my alarm ringing at 4:30 on Friday (and yes that is 4:30 AM). This alarm wasn't for our typical 6 AM Tuesday/ Thursday agility training, or our Monday, Wednesday, Friday 8 am weight lifting, but for something completely different, something that I had only really dreamed of doing. That was to catch my flight to Colorado Springs to try out for the USA National Team. Before leaving for the tryout I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that a record 247 athletes were signed up to participate in the tryouts, made up of 56 other liberos (my position), 60 outside hitters, 57 middle blockers, 49 setters, and 25 opposites.

Four other teammates and I (keep in mind we are ALL of course wearing blue) checked in to our flight and headed to our terminal only to see in front of us a group of four girls wearing red (yes the red was Louisville, booooo! Haha), but despite the in-state rivalry on the court, off the court we all get along and we boarded our flight all with the same destination in mind… Dallas, Texas then Colorado Springs, Colorado!

(From left to write) Whitney Billings, Steph Klefot, me, and Zan Morgan all participated in the tryouts along with Morgan Bergren (not pictured).

Our flight left Louisville at 6:10, stopping in Texas, and then arriving in Colorado around 11:30 their time (1:30 Lexington time). I can’t tell y’all how many times we were stopped in the airport because of people asking us questions like what we were doing here, and the MOST COMMON question we hear EVERYWHERE we go, “Are you all the basketball team???” because most of the girls are tall… Well, of course with an exception of Steph and me, as you can tell from the picture above we lack a little in the area of height! 
Anyway, with jet lag fully in effect, we picked up our luggage, found our bus driver holding the “USA team tryout” sign and headed to this bus waiting outside for us.

Hopefully you can tell from the picture how cold it was but I have to admit, our bus was awesome!
 As soon as I saw this bus I got butterflies in my stomach, but it was weird because it wasn’t exactly the nervous butterflies, but excitement because the reality of the experience I was lucky enough to take part in was finally setting in!

We finally got to the training center around 12:00 PM to check in, get our ID cards made, pick up our tryout shirts, take our things to our rooms, and find time to eat ALL before our first tryout session began…. AT 2PM!

Here's some pictures of the entrance to the facility, the courts, and our tryout shirts.. with of course my UK spandex ;)
Somehow we managed to do this all in time, and made it to the gym at about 1:30 to start warming up.

After two hours of competing with some of the top collegiate volleyball players in the country, I was truly exhausted by the end of the day (and it was only the first day!)  We had a meeting for the staff to introduce themselves, and then grabbed dinner in the training café. I have to tell y’all the food was DELICIOUS and on top of that we were allowed to go in there anytime we wanted (YES, I said that…unlimited food), and as many times we wanted (yes, again… unlimited food), as long as we had our ID scan cards. After dinner we went back to our room to try to catch up on some sleep until our alarms rang again for our first session at 8 AM Saturday morning.
The first session on Saturday was from 8:00 to 9:30 AM, and they broke us up into our specific position group to work on specific skills like how they train their Olympic athletes. Since so many athletes were from so many different teams, a lot of the girls had many different ways of doing things, but we had to work to change our habits and do exactly what it is that they wanted us to do.
After the first session we had a little free time to explore the beautiful training site! When I say beautiful, I mean b-e-a-UTIFUL. *Jim Carrey voice*

Take a look at the first picture I took walking down the pathway to the USA gift store and the second was of the mountains behind the training center.
At 11:30 we went to our physical training session which was for them to record certain aspects of our physical training skills such as vertical jump, approach jump, shuttle runs, and our speed when we take off. Being a libero, they weren’t really too concerned with how high I jumped, so we just had to get our height measure, do the runs, testing our speed, and a standing block jump.

All that heavy weight lifting in the training room paid off lol
In between the physical training session and our next session, which began at 5:45 pm, we had time to goof around a little bit and go back to the café for some lunch (yes more food). Walking around the site we found some things we thought were funny and being as goofy as we are, we took these pictures.
... Yo Kentucky, we have a BOBSLED team!!

We then went on to our last session, where we played for over two hours. The competition level was at its highest because the nerves that many of the players had were now gone. It was this session that would decide what group we would be placed in for the final morning session on Sunday, either the red, white, or blue group. Here's a few pictures of Whitney, Zan, and I playing during this last session on Saturday!
We look like some ballers, eh?!
After the tryout we were told we would hear that night what group we were in, so everyone anxiously awaited by their phone waiting for the email with our numbers and the morning schedule attached.  I found out I was in the red group that was going to go on Sunday morning at 7:30 AM. So lights were out, and I went to bed knowing Sunday morning was my last opportunity to make an impression on these coaches and the players around me.
Sunday mornings alarm came way too early, but it was my last opportunity to chase after my dreams. The final day was full of competition and we were assigned to teams to play a round robin tournament. Coincidentally, both Louisville and Purdue's liberos were on my team (two big rivals of KY), but I enjoyed playing with them and getting to know them. My team went on to win two of our three games, and that wrapped up the weekend tryout for the USA National Team.
This experience was once in a lifetime, but the preparation began long before the day we left. We began preparing days, even weeks, before the tryout. Making it essential to properly fuel my body with the proper nutrients, getting enough sleep, and water, water, did I mention water? Because of the change in altitude dehydration can be a huge issue in the Springs, so for the week leading up to the tryout anytime you saw me I had a water bottle in hand.
 Even though the schedule was very hectic, and I found myself rushing to get homework done in between the sessions and studying for tests (yes, we are STUDENT- athletes and we do our homework), I would do it all over again. Playing for Team USA or playing overseas is a dream of mine that I hope to pursue after college. I hope with this blog you were able to get a little insider on the experience of a USA National Team tryout.
Just for a little motivation thought to think about, I'm gonna wrap up my experience with this quote:

So true!!! Work for your dreams!


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