By Jack Williams
Sports writing is getting to be a tough job for an old country boy like me. My assignment was to interview the star player of the Georgia Tech volleyball team-and guess what she said?
“In die erste all Atlantic Coast Conference mannschaft gewahlt zu werden, ist ein tolles nebenprodukt wenn man gut spielt. Aber das ist nicht mein ziel. Fur das team gut zu spielen um zu gewinnen ist meine erste prioritat. Alles ander ist eine grosse ehre.”
That was Maja Pachale, Yellow Jacket junior outside hitter from Schwerin, Germany, jokingly giving me a little Deutschland lingo that translates roughly into English as follows:
“Making all-Atlantic Coast Conference is a nice by-product of what I do. But that was not my intention. My first goal is to play well for the team. It is nice if an honor comes along.”
Maja, (pronounced MY-ya), incidentally, is not the only player on the Georgia Tech volleyball team who speaks sometimes with a European flavor. The others, in no particular order, are:
Geeske (GAY-ska) Banck, a freshman outside hitter from Moenkeberg, Germany. Alexandra (Alex) Preiss, a freshman middle blocker from Berlin, Germany. Enkeleida (EE-da) Shkoza Mabry, a junior rightside hitter from Divjake, Albania. Dore (Dory) Pap, a junior rightside hitter from Budapest, Hungary.
|Enkeleida Shkoza Mabry|
All joking aside, neither Maja nor the other European players find it necessary to speak to me or anyone else in their native tongues these days. All five speak English (and a number of other languages) quite fluently. Even when the three German girls are huddled on a team bus or at a team meal, they speak English, saying it would be impolite to do otherwise.
The five have something else in common besides a command of languages. They play volleyball with a passion.
They’ll be on the firing line this weekend when Coach Shelton Collier’s team (10-4, 1-1 ACC) resumes league action with home games against Virginia and Maryland. The Jackets host the Cavaliers Friday night and the Terps on Saturday in games that start at 7 p.m. at O’Keefe Gym.
The five European players came to Coach Collier’s attention in a variety of ways. In each case, the coach visited Europe to see the players in action and then offered scholarships. All five had extensive experience competing on club teams in their homelands.
Pachale is, without question, the star of the European contingent. She did, indeed, make all-ACC last season after setting the school record for kills in a season with 552. A three-year Tech starter, she currently is first on the Tech team in digs with 137 and second in kills with 165.
She also is a star in the classroom with a 3.3 grade point average in management.
She comes by her athletic talent quite naturally. “My sister Hanka is a very good volleyball player who is in Australia competing for Germany in the Olympic Games,” Pachale said. “She is a professional player in a high-level league in Italy. My parents (Siegfried and Kristina) both were discus throwers on the East German National team. My father finished fifth in the 1976 Olympics at Montreal. That’s very good, right?”
Pachale says volleyball competition in the United States is quite different from that in her homeland. “There are no college teams in Germany.” she says. “Everyone plays on club teams. Many of the players in Germany are much older and quite experienced. Here everyone is close to the same age-and that’s a basic difference.”
Pachale says the caliber of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference has improved greatly during her time at Tech. “There is no longer a bottom level,” she said. “Every team is competitive. Wake Forest is a good example of a team that has become so much better.”
She also says Tech is much improved. “We have depth again,” she said. “Many different people can step in now and play well. We have good young talent.”
Two of the big reasons for Tech’s improvement are newcomers Mabry and Banck. They have launched their careers here with outstanding results. Mabry, a transfer from Temple University, last weekend notched 22 kills and eight block assists, both highs for the season, in a win over North Carolina State. Banck is an outside hitter and a defensive whiz who has seen action in 24 matches so far. Earlier in the campaign, she had a season-high 13 digs against Davidson.
New players Preiss and Pap have outstanding backgrounds in European volleyball and should be solid contributors here in the future. Now, however, they are in a learning process and play sparingly.
All of the new players have highly-interesting stories to tell.
Mabry, for example, wound up at Georgia Tech after marrying Atlantan Michael Mabry, when both were students at Temple. “My husband studied pharmacy at Temple and now is employed as a pharmacist at Children’s Hospital in Atlanta,” she said.
Eida’s sister, Esmeralda, also wound up in Georgia. She currently studies and plays volleyball at Mercer University.
In a most unusual way, Mabry recently decided she wants to eventually pursue a career in airport management. “I was in a supermarket in Atlanta,” she said, “and the nice salesman behind the fish counter began talking to me. I told him I was at Georgia Tech and studying management. He said, ”Have you ever thought about getting into airport management? That is a very interesting profession.’
“I checked on it and found that to be true. Airport management now is my goal.”
Two of Mabry’s favorite pastimes are cooking and classical music. “I like to prepare European meals,” she said. “I’m not a big fan of American fast food. I also very much enjoy classical music. My father (Thermi Shkoza) was a classical singer and played many different musical instruments. He tried to teach me, but I do not play.”
Banck is an accomplished beach volleyball player who might try to nail down a spot, representing Germany in the 2004 Olympic Games. “I lost my partner and that makes it difficult,” she said. “I would have to find a new one and may discover that I do not have time. But I am interested in the Olympics.”
She won the German Doubles Beach Volleyball Championship as a junior and placed third at the European Beach championships in 1998.
Banck finds volleyball competition here so different from that in Germany. “This is the first time I have ever been on a team with players my own age,” she said. “On my club team in Germany, the players were much older and more experienced. One was 35.
“Volleyball attracts more spectators here. But there were more players in Germany. There, men and women gather just to have fun playing the game.”
Banck’s father and mother (Heinrich and Sabine) were fine athletes. Her father was a high diver, gymnast and tennis player in college and her mother played volleyball and tennis. Today, both teach English and athletics at the high school level.
Preiss hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father (Wolfgang) and her brother (Michael), both of whom are airline pilots for Lufthansa, headquartered in Frankfurt.
“It would be interesting to travel a lot like they do,” she said. “That is my goal-to be a pilot.”
Preiss has a variety of other interests. One of them is the theatre. She has participated in a number of plays, some where English was spoken and others where German was the language. She says, “It would be so exciting to be in the theatre again.”
Growing up, Preiss participated in almost every sport that was available to her. She has found a new one of interest in this country-college football.
“At the beginning, I thought it was too aggressive,” she said. “But now that I have learned the rules, the game is really fun. I do not want to play it, but I enjoy watching.”
Perhaps the most interesting story is the Americanization of Pap, a young lady who obviously has overcome much hardship, growing up in Hungary and Romania.
She played on a Romanian Junior National Team. “It was at a time when Communism was in my country and right after the end of Communism,” she said. “Our team there had many struggles. It was far from all the conveniences our team has here. I’m very proud to have survived that experience.”
Pap came all the way from Budapest to enroll at Georgia Tech, carrying only a small overnight bag. “I don’t have many clothes,” she said. “But what I need here is me-not clothes. My teammates have helped by giving me clothes they do not need.”
Pap says she is grateful to all the people in Atlanta and the ACC area who have been so helpful. “I am a stranger in this place,” she said. “But I have received help and support from many. I also have found my teachers at Georgia Tech to be so well organized. They are always well-prepared when I go to class.”
Pap never studied English-just picked up the language from friends and associates. She says she is doing well in her major-international affairs-despite the fact she has difficulty sometimes reading English.
Pap looks ahead with great confidence. She said, “My goal is to go back to Europe someday and be creative and helpful there, using the things I have learned here.”
She said that perfect sentence in perfect English.