July 23, 2013
By Jon Cooper
When Chanell Clark-Bibbs found out she would accompany the U.S. Women’s Junior National Volleyball Team to Europe, she was almost speechless.
That wasn’t really out of character for her, as that pretty much described her persona throughout her freshman season, as she quietly, but efficiently earned a place on the All-ACC Freshman Team.
Yet it was the quiet part of her quiet efficiency that Georgia Tech volleyball head coach Tonya Johnson told Clark-Bibbs she needed to lose immediately.
“One of the things we talked about before she left was the fact that she couldn’t take a long time for her personality to come out,” said Johnson. “It had to come out the first day she set foot on the training center. It’s like, ‘You’ve got to let your personality come out so that you can mesh with these kids and you guys can mesh as a team pretty fast because you’re not going to get a lot of time to train together before you go play.'”
The Houston native did just that upon reaching Brno in the Czech Republic, chalking up 13 kills and 10 blocks in the three matches she played in the 2013 U20 World Championships. The team went 1-3, but Clark-Bibbs got a unique lifetime experience.
“The overall experience was really fun,” she said. “I got to meet some great girls and play against different countries. I learned a lot of things and it’s definitely something I want to do again.
“It’s made me want to travel,” she added. “I want to see other parts of the world now. Living in a different culture, learning their language and the customs there, it’s something I want to do more of.”
That’s quite a statement for someone who had never been outside of the United States prior to this summer, and was traveling to Europe with basically a group of strangers.
Instead of heading back into her shell, she opened up, embracing the overall experience — be it the history and architecture, or the people and their local customs, or simply the shops and, especially during a day trip to Prague, the gelato (“they have gelato everywhere and I’m a fan of gelato,”).
Clark-Bibbs expanded her horizons as much on the floor, where she and her U.S. teammates had to come together and adjust to the European game and play some of the top Under-20 teams in the world.
“In international ball a lot of the balls go to the pins, so it’s a little slower-paced but the skill is really high. So you have to be very disciplined,” she said. “You’re playing against girls that have been playing with each other for months and months. So it was very important for my team to be very disciplined because we’d only been playing with each other for a little bit.”
The team went 1-3, falling to Bulgaria, Russia and Brazil, but also earning a spirited four-set victory against Mexico.
“Coming in we were in a tough bracket. A lot of the teams that were in our bracket were in the top 10 so we knew that we were going to have our work cut out for us,” Clark-Bibbs said. “When we beat Mexico that was a big moment for us because we knew that we could compete with these teams and we could beat these teams.”
Johnson believes the experience of playing through the tough competition and playing for her country taught her middle-blocker a lot about herself.
“I think the most important thing that she learned is that she’s a good volleyball player, that she’s a great blocker and can compete with anybody,” said Johnson. “If you can walk away from your experience understanding how good you can be, that’s a big accomplishment in itself. It was an incredible experience for her and I’m sure one that she’ll always remember and cherish.”
Clark-Bibbs is sharing some of what she experienced as a tourist and a lot of what she learned as a representative of the U.S. Junior Women’s National Team with her Georgia Tech teammates. She believes the things she learned can translate to NCAA play and to Georgia Tech.
“I’ve been able to show them the work ethic that we had and what the coaches expected of us there. It’s kind of what they should expect of us here at Georgia Tech.” she said. “The girls that I played with in USA are playing at a high level and so can we. They’ve been very receptive of that. They’ve also enjoyed stories, funny stories of like when we’re just chillin’ in the hotel and my trip to Prague or to different cities.”
It’ll make for great listening on road trips throughout the 2013 season, something Clark-Bibbs can’t wait to get underway.
“I think playing overseas and working this past year, becoming a sophomore, I’m learning the ropes a little more and getting a little more comfortable,” she said. “I see it as a requirement to be more vocal. I know my coaches are expecting me to be more of a vocal leader and I expect that of myself as well.”