May 3, 2012
Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
Georgia Tech Volleyball Head Coach Tonya Johnson wanted to do something unique to reward her players for their completion of spring play and even more recent finish of final exams, while also preparing them for the upcoming fall season.
She found the perfect way to combine both by helping arrange an 11-day tour of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, during which her charges will play six matches against several tough local teams.
“It’s an opportunity for us to travel as a team, bond as a team and spend some quality time together,” said Johnson, who will begin her fourth season on the Flats this fall. “It’s going to be a lot of great competition against professional teams and junior national teams.
“It’s an exciting time for the kids to see another culture and have some diversity, eat different food and meet different people and see how other people live across the world,” she added. “I’m excited because of the experience that it provides for our kids. Not only is it about volleyball but it’s a great educational experience. We’ll get to do a lot of sightseeing and everything and play along with that. We’ll get to have our cake and eat it too.”
The team has known about the trip for a while, but with all the focus on spring practice then finals, it kind of got pushed to the backburner. Now, their plates cleared, they can’t wait to get to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
“We’ve been talking about it for like six months and now it’s right in front of us. It’s reality that we’re actually going and I’m so excited,” said libero Nicki Meyer, who will be one of five seniors on next season’s squad. “There is so much history in Italy and I’m sure there is in Croatia and Slovenia, too. So there’s going go lots of touring and lots of learning and lots of seeing of everything.”
The experience begins when the team takes off for Split, Croatia today. On Saturday they will spend the day sightseeing then hit the court for practice. The next day they’ll spend the morning taking a boat trip around Split before taking on ZOK 1700 Split. Monday includes a morning visit to Trigor, followed by an afternoon “Sports Day” before leaving for Slovenia.
Getting to know the local culture and environment was as important as getting to know the local teams. “There is so much time for sightseeing every day. They took out a big chunk of time and dedicated it just for getting the experience,” said Meyer. “I thought that was really cool of our coaches to do that. We are going over there to play and compete but at the same time we’re going to be able to get a whole experience out of it. That’s really exciting for all of us.”
The stop in Croatia will be especially exciting for outside hitter Ivona Kolak, who grew up in Kastel Gomilica.
“Croatia was one of our spots to get Ivona in front of her family and to be in her hometown,” said Johnson. “I’ve heard Croatia is absolutely beautiful. I’m just excited to go see what it’s about it and most important excited for Ivona to see her family because it will probably be the last time she sees her family until Christmas.”
After spending a couple of days in Croatia, the team will travel to Slovenia, where they will visit city of Logarska Dolina, preceding Tuesday night’s match with OK Sempeter, then see Maribor on Wednesday, prior to that night’s match with the Slovenian Junior National Team.
Then it’s off to Italy, starting in Pordenone. They’ll see Venice on Friday (playing Porica Club that night), then head to Milan, where the team will spend the final three days. Tech will play Sunday and Monday matches against Club Italia, before flying home on May 15.
The tour was arranged through Bring It Promotions (www.bringitusa.com), a company that been bringing American teams of all levels overseas and international to America since 1996.
Johnson knew of Bring It, having arranged similar tours while an assistant coach at the University of Texas in 2004 and 2009 — she didn’t get to participate in the latter, having taken the Georgia Tech job — and saw first-hand the good that can come from this type of extended time together.
“Back in 2004, I planned our first foreign tour with [Bring It Promotions] and our kids had an absolute blast,” she said. “So one of my goals when I got here was to experience that and to help our student-athletes experience that. I thought we have, five seniors who are leaving us in the fall, what a great way to get this team to bond. We’ll get some more matches in, get some extra practices in, to build a bond, take what we’ve already done in the spring and carry it into the fall.”
The Jackets will go to these countries as eager to learn about the different styles of volleyball their likely to see as they are of the different cultures and customs.
“It’s going to be two different styles of volleyball going at each other. So I guess we’re going to see which one works better,” Meyer said, with a laugh. “I’m sure we’re going to make some adjustments because there’s no way that it’s similar to what we see every day. So we’ll just go with the flow and see what’s next and just change as we need to.”
“[Ivona] said we’re playing some big time teams over there, which I don’t doubt at all. So I’m really excited,” she added. “We’re going to see a lot of good players. It’s going to be really competitive and really intense. I’ve never played in a foreign environment so it’s going to be a whole new experience. I’m really excited to play.”
Johnson added that seeing these different environments and styles of play could prove beneficial down the road, after college.
“We have some kids who have a desire to play professionally and as we know, if you want to play professionally, basically the only opportunities you have are overseas,” she said. “So what a great opportunity for them to experience the culture and see what it’s like to live in different countries for a couple of days so that if they have the desire to do that they’ll at least have a little bit of experience before they head over there.”
To keep tabs on the team while they’re on tour visit www.ramblinwreck.com/sports/w-volley/EuropeBlog.html