Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Sept. 6, 2001

By Jack Williams – Maja Pachale invited her teammates and coaches on the Georgia Tech volleyball team over to her home for a cookout last summer. It turned out to be quite an excursion-roughly 9,110 air miles roundtrip.

Oh well, the food was good and so was the fellowship. They served bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad-and steaks too. There wasn’t a hot dog or a hamburger in the house.

You see, Maja’s family home is in Schwerin, Germany-a whole lot of overhead smashes from the Georgia Tech campus where Maja and her teammates form such an exciting team.

Now, let me hasten to add that the Tech team was scheduled to be in Germany anyway on a six-game exhibition tour. The cookout at Maja’s home really was just a bonus.

“It meant a lot to have my teammates visit my home,” Pachale said. “I was excited to show them where I grew up. We had a really good time. In addition to the cookout, we took a tour bus on a sightseeing trip around Schwerin and even saw a famous castle in my hometown.”

The trip to Germany was arranged by Tech coach Shelton Collier and orchestrated by Maja’s mother, Kristina, who lined up hotels, tour buses and even the volleyball opponents.

The trip was a warm-up for what is expected to be a banner Tech season. The Jackets, led by seniors Pachale at outside hitter and Kyleen Bell at middle blocker, were ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in pre-season rankings.

Maja Pachale (pronounced MY-ya pa-HALL-la) played a key role last weekend when Tech opened the new season at the Utah Tournament in Salt Lake City, defeating both Texas Tech and Rhode Island and losing to 21st-ranked Utah. Pachale had 45 kills in the three outings.

The home season gets under way this weekend with the Georgia Tech Classic at O’Keefe Gymnasium on the Tech campus. The Jackets face powerful Colorado State Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Georgetown Saturday at 1 p.m., and LSU Sunday at 3 p.m.

Collier stresses the important role Pachale plays on the Tech team. “Maja has been one of the top players in the ACC for three seasons,” he says. “and she is determined to have her best season ever in her final year. She will be a strong leader for our team.”

The summer trip to Germany was a homecoming for one other Tech player. Sophomore Alexandra Preiss hails from Berlin, and the Jackets also played in that major city.

“Alex and I served as translators on the entire trip,” Pachale says. “That made it easy for our players, having two people on the trip who speak German and also English. I think all our players had a really good time.”

Tech teammate Kele Eveland of Grand Rapids, Mich., seconds the motion. “The cookout at Maja’s home gave me a first-hand experience in learning about German family life,” Eveland said. “It was so special to see Maja and her family in that setting. It also was special to have her grandfather show us his beautiful garden.”

The Tech team found out first-hand why Jacket coaches spend a considerable amount of time recruiting in Europe. The Jackets squared off against super-talented club teams throughout their German tour, including the Schwerin club team on which Pachale used to play. Tech lost four of the six matches in Germany.

In the match against Schwerin, Maja was lined up just briefly against her sister, Hanka, who is a noted player in the talent-rich Italian Professional League. Hanka played on the last two German Olympic teams that finished eighth in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and fifth in the recent Olympic Games in Sydney.

Maja and Hanka were delighted that their grandfather, Gunther Reibe, saw the match when the Schwerin team edged Tech. “That made it special that my grandfather was there,” Maja said. “It’s the first time Hanka and I have ever opposed each other in a game. That’s lucky for me. I wouldn’t want to face her very often. She’s really good.”

Maja says she may join her sister in Italy in professional ranks when her Tech days are over. “That is one option,” Maya says. “But I probably would have to play on a second division team. The teams in the top division are composed of the best players in Europe-stars from Russia, Germany, all over.”

Maja also may decide to return to her hometown and play for the Schwerin Club on which she began her volleyball career. “If I do that, then I might also study for a master’s degree,” she said.

The Tech star comes by her athletic ability quite naturally. Her father, Siegfried, finished fifth in the discus event when he represented Germany in the 1976 Olympics. Her mother also was a internationally successful athlete who threw the discus for the German National team.

To say that Maja Pachale has excelled at Georgia Tech would be an understatement. She was first team All-ACC in 1999 and 2000 and won District III honors in 1999. She holds the Tech record for kills in a match (38) and kills in a season (552).

She also stars big-time in the classroom. Majoring in management, she currently has a 3.3 grade point average.

“My top goal this year is to win the ACC Tournament championship, something we have not done in my time here” Pachale says. “This is my last chance.”

Tech did win the regular season ACC title last year, but second-place North Carolina captured the tournament title. The Jackets also played in the NCAA Tournament in 2000. “North Carolina could be our top competition in the ACC this year, too,” says Pachale. “But there are other really good teams, like Wake Forest, Duke, Clemson and Florida State.”

Pachale enjoys life in Atlanta and has a variety of hobbies, including the movies (comedies are her favorite), reading and music (everything except country). But she makes no secret of the fact that she definitely will return to her homeland when her Tech days are over.

“Schwerin is so different from Atlanta,” she said. “For one thing, there’s the big size difference. But the countries are very different, too. I grew up in East Germany when Communism was very much in effect. It’s changed so much now. Looking back at those days, I always think of the positives. We had a real tight community where everyone stayed together. For example, fruits, like bananas, were very difficult to get, and you had to stand in long lines at the market. It helped if you had community friends working there. There was a wonderful feeling of togetherness.”

Maja applies that same “togetherness logic” to the volleyball court and said so-in German-at the end of our interview.

“Dieses Jahr hat unser Team den richtigen mix von talentierten freshman und erfaurenen splielern. Die sophomores haben viel dazugelerut in ihrem ersten Jahr und sind jetzt schon veteranen.”

Translated, she said:

“This year our team has the right mix of talented freshman and experienced players. This year’s sophomores gained a lot of confidence and learned a lot and are veterans already.”

Sounds good to me-in any language.

Auf wiedersehen!

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