In South America, Volleyball finds success and fun outside of comfort zone

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By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 18, 2013

Seven months after capping the 2012 season with a surprise run to the program’s first-ever NCAA semifinals, the Michigan volleyball team found themselves in foreign territory once again. This time, it truly was foreign.

After its surprise run to Louisville, Ky., the Wolverines traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the first stop on their 13-day tour of Argentina and Brazil.

Playing 10 games in 11 days, the Wolverines shrugged off fatigue, culture shock and even travel-delaying political protests en route to a 9-1 record.

“I thought we played really well the whole time,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We’re always trying to get better so we’re going to keep challenging (the team) throughout. By the end, they were pretty tired and we had to motivate them to get through the 10 days, which they did a great job at.”

Teams are allowed to take summer training trips once every four years. With the last trip coming in 2009 and 13 player returning from last season, Rosen felt this year was as good as any to do it.

The trip consisted of five matches in Argentina and five in Brazil. The first seven were against professional and club teams, with the last three against the Brazilian Junior National team. Rosen compared the competition to mid-major or lower Big Ten schools, making a 9-1 record impressive considering the strong track record of the Big Ten.

“We played almost a month more volleyball this year than any given year,” Rosen said. “It’s always good to get more volleyball in, especially with such a big returning group. It’s good to just be in contact with the game at all, let alone compete. But there are six other Big Ten teams doing the exact same thing this year, so we’ll see if it really turns into an advantage.

“We didn’t have much time to practice. So once we started playing we saw things we wanted to get better at. By the end we had a lot of stuff we want to get better at once we start practicing again.”

Outside of the court, the trip proved to be a fun educational experience for the team. From the Rio beaches, to historical museums and landmarks, to delicious food from both countries and even karaoke — the Wolverines experienced South America as tourists in addition to athletes.

But like most vacations, the fun doesn’t come completely drama-free.

As the Wolverines awaited a ride to the Buenos Aires airport to head into Brazil, news broke out that a political protest was blocking all of the streets. After frantic discussion and with little time to spare, the team and coaches hustled their luggage nine blocks on cobblestone streets to the airport.

While bystanders laughed, Rosen felt the moment was the best of many team-building exercises on the trip.

“Those kind of things just pop up,” Rosen said. “They’re what build a team and create memories that’ll last forever.”

Whether it was through conflict, sightseeing or games, Rosen believes his team grew much closer during the trip, adding an aspect to the team that will carry into the ups and downs of the grueling season ahead.

“This group travels really well,” he said. “The trip can be a grind; it’s a lot of time going all over the place with the same people in closed quarters with food and cultures that you aren’t used to. But this team handled it really well.
You’d think after three weeks together they’d be at each other’s throats, but it was actually the opposite. They still wanted to hang out and spend time together. They’re adventurous, outgoing and went right out of their comfort zones.”

After the best postseason finish in school history and losing only one player — Claire McElheny, to graduation —expectations are as high as ever for Rosen’s squad. While many eyes are on a return trip to the NCAA semifinals and beyond, Rosen makes sure to keep his players close to home, no matter how far away from it they play.

“This is a very motivated group, Rosen said. “They understand we have a good amount of ability and experience. But I think we need to keep our expectations in check because they don’t do any good. All we have to do is go out and play the games.”

Unfortunately for them, they won’t be able to go to the beach the next day.