The UC Davis volleyball team is used to playing against other California teams (and one from Hawaii). This summer some of their opponents were from the Czech Republic, Portugal and Slovenia.
The team took an 11-day European trip in June, playing against professional teams and sightseeing in Prague; Vienna; Maribor, Slovenia; Venice, Italy; and Lisbon, Portugal.
This was the first international tour in the history of the program, and only the third ever by a women’s volleyball team in the Big West Conference. Attendees included established Aggie student-athletes, incoming freshmen and six staff members.
“It was a great icebreaker,” Demari Webb, a senior human development major, said of new players going on the trip. “We built team chemistry and connections, and got to play some volleyball without the pressure of the season and the win-loss record.”
They faced off against teams like Olymp Praha and Nova KBM Maribor Club, professional teams based in Prague and Maribor. Between matches, they rode in Venetian water taxis, toured historic cathedrals and castles, slid down a Maribor ski hill on a mountain roller coaster, and shared traditional dishes with local players.
One of the biggest surprises from the trip came not from European architecture or landscapes, but from the attitudes of the host teams.
“All the girls were super sweet and very welcoming,” said Casi Newman, a junior biology major. “Some of them took us on a tour — we were able to meet a couple players before we would play them.”
Players exchanged jerseys after games, and many now follow each other on social media, Webb said, noting how friendly the players were even in the middle of competition.
Many of the teams had players from their early teens to mid-30s, and head coach Dan Conners said he hopes the Aggies learned something from their more experienced opponents.
“They played the game with a lot of intention,” Conners said of a loss to the more advanced of two teams in Prague. “We got to see how players who might not be as physical as you can play the game better than you. We have some pretty talented athletes on the team, and if we can just learn the game a little better, we’re going to be a really great team.”
The NCAA allows teams to take international tours only once every four years, and Conners said he’s already brainstorming the next trip.
“I’m so grateful we got to go on this trip,” Newman said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”