Juliana Paz wasn’t supposed to play for Michigan.
She wasn’t even supposed to play volleyball for Iowa Western Community College.
But that all changed, with the help of a complete stranger.
One of the girls on Paz’s club team in her native Brazil wanted to attend IWCC. She then sent a tape to IWCC coach Terry Gamble highlighting her play in practice.
When Gamble saw the tape, he didn’t even pay attention to the teammate who sent it. Instead, he noticed Paz and gave her an offer to play at IWCC. In fall 2006, Paz made the trek from her bustling hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil to the small town of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Paz played two seasons under Gamble and then did something out of the ordinary — she transferred to the University of Michigan.
Gamble, a good friend of Michigan coach Mark Rosen, told him a few years ago he needed to take a look at Paz. But Rosen said he didn’t expect to get a junior college player because they don’t typically transfer to big Division I schools.
“Number one, it is very hard to get into school here,” Rosen said. “And number two, a player can only play for two years, so you have that also.”
But after Paz’s freshman grades came back, IWCC coach Terry Gamble told Rosen he should take a look at this player. And then Rosen knew he had to take a serious look at the girl from Brazil.
While soccer is the coveted sport of many Brazilians, Paz inherited a passion for volleyball from her mother, who played the sport in high school.
“I started gymnastics there when I was eight years old,” Paz said. “When my mom saw that I was getting taller than all of the other kids, she told me I should try volleyball.”
So at the age of 10, Juliana picked up the sport that eventually brought her to the United States.
In the fall of 2006, Paz started her collegiate career playing for IWCC, where she earned NJCAA First Team All-American honors her freshman and sophomore years.
Two years later, Rosen came calling and Paz accepted an offer to play at Michigan.
“She’s a hard worker and very intelligent,” Rosen said. “She is a good volleyball player and a good teammate, but more importantly, a good person.”
But the junior outside hitter is still learning from Rosen and the rest of the Michigan coaching staff how to become an even better volleyball player.
Rosen wants Paz to play her Brazilian style of volleyball more consistently, rather than in spurts.
“The American culture is very different from the Brazilian culture when it comes to volleyball,” Rosen said. “In the American culture, there is a lot of emphasis on sportsmanship, but the Brazilians play with a lot of fire and personality.”
Rosen saw some of that Brazilian energy at times this past weekend. Some of Paz’s teammates have noticed that same fire that Rosen wants her to display on the court.
“At first, she was kind of quiet and uncomfortable,” senior middle back Beth Karpiak said. “But now she has become more enthusiastic and more comfortable, and I think that has transferred over into the gym.”
Paz needs to continue to elevate her game and play her distinctive style of volleyball if the Wolverines hope to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
“She is definitely a huge hitter on our team,” junior libero Megan Bower said. “She will be carrying much of the offensive and defensive load for us. She is completely capable of that and plus, her role on her junior college team was very similar to her role here.”
But she might not have been given that opportunity without a little luck.