Around January, Kaz, Darian and I decided to go through with trying out for the college national team out in Colorado Springs at the US Olympic Training Center.
I knew coming in that having the experience last year was good – for liberos you don’t get to be seen as much as outsides or middles, so you have to stand out by communicating with your teammates and being more involved with giving out information to the team. Last year really helped me figure out how to be that communicator and still be a great teammate. By knowing what was coming, I feel like I had a better shot of being that teammate that the US team is looking for.
The process can be overwhelming the first time through. You don’t know if you’re on the good side or the bad side. One of the toughest parts for me is that I always like to know everyone I’m playing with and their names, which is tough with so many people trying out. There are hundreds of people there and you play with so many people while you’re trying out. I tried to make sure to get to know the people I was playing with – their name, where they’re from, stuff like that. The facility itself was huge. It was awesome just to be there.
Throughout the tryouts you definitely have your frustrations. It was great having Kaz and Darian there because you can talk through it and vent to them if they’re going through the same thing. At the same time, in reality, all you can do is your best and having them there to remind me that was really helpful. A couple of times Darian and I were on the court together and it was really cool to be back together as teammates, giving high fives and being in the same system.
When I found out about making the team for the CNT training program in Indianapolis, my experience was a little different than most. I was originally notified that I made the team before a correction email notified me that there had been an error and that I was an alternate. Luckily, after one of the other girls declined I was offered a spot at the training program. It gave me a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I knew I belonged in the program and was confident that I was up there talent-wise, so I got over the initial let-down of being an alternate and decided to make the most of my opportunity on the team.
The Team USA Experience:
I arrived pretty early on the 21st for check-in in Indiana at the campus of DePaul University. With check-in not ending until around 3 p.m., I got to take some time to get to meet some of my future teammates and competition as they arrived which was a lot of fun. I got to also get to know a few of our rivals better – a few girls from Louisville were there – and it was cool to get to meet some of our out-of-conference opponents. As intense as things may get on the court, they’re a great group of girls and it was good getting to know them.
We had our first training session that afternoon, one of many in the few days we spent at DePaul. We competed in a minimum two sessions every day, just hashing everything out – getting the hang of Team USA’s system, where they wanted the rotations to be, their mentality approaching the game. All 36 of us got mixed into different groups and we learned every detail we could about the team’s system.
During the final day at DePaul, the coaches had a draft to pick their squads for the upcoming tournament. They made sure to keep things fun, as the coaches played ridiculous games to figure out who would get which draft pick and the order in which they’d pick players. I got picked by Kayla Cole and Dennis Jenkins, a pair of club coaches who work with the Team USA staff. The coaching staff made it a priority that we all had a great experience.
The biggest adjustment for me during training was positioning. All my life I’ve played left-back as a libero, but Team USA wants their liberos playing middle-back. It was a big transition for me. I really struggle to stay still and know I can be a little jumpy, so it was initially frustrating. As the practices and matches went on, I was more appreciative knowing I was becoming more disciplined and that these little changes will help me improve in my position.
Once we selected teams, we traveled to Indianapolis where we had a session before starting the tournament. My team lost our first match in five, sending us down to a two-match elimination game against the White team. We won the first match, which gave us a nice confidence boost after seeing their offense and game plan in action. In the semifinal match against them we swept, before heading to the championship game. We ended up losing in five sets, but it was an awesome experience.
Over the time in Indianapolis I became pretty close with the other libero on our team, Amie Held from University of Northern Iowa. She and I had a great connection. She’s the nicest person and we never ran into issues about playing time, we just wanted what was the best for the team. We’d critique one another and there were no hard feelings – just us trying to get better. It felt like we had been friends for a long time. Having that connection with someone in your position is special, and I can’t wait to see her when we face them later this fall.
After my first day of playing in the tournament I was admittedly a bit shaky. A lot of members from my old club team were there for junior nationals and I wanted to make a good impression. Amie had been there last season and she got the start for the first set. It was a bit of a downer – you always want to start – but I understood why and I progressively got better. We normally swapped in between sets, but during the championship game a few days later, she played both the first and second set. After we dropped the first two sets, I played in the final three sets and did really well. I knew I had to embrace the opportunity I was given even though I didn’t get to play in the second set, and honestly, I think it’s some of the best volleyball I’ve ever played.
I think some of the biggest lessons I learned from my time with Team USA were about being the best teammate I can be. You can’t get down when you’re not doing well because other people need you. Even when you’re not making everything happen on the court you can still help your team out. It was an adjustment for me only being on the court 50% of the time compared to here at Kentucky. I can’t give enough credit to the girls who come off the bench and come in cold. It’s hard to make an impression when you’re not warm and ready to go.
After this years’ experience I definitely hope to be invited back to try out again next year. I learned a lot, improved as a player, and think I can go even farther next time.
“In Their Words” is an exclusive, two-part series covering Kentucky volleyball players Kaz Brown and Ashley Dusek’s experiences with Team USA’s volleyball training programs this summer. Brown was a member of the Collegiate National Team’s China tour, while Dusek participated in the Collegiate National Team training program in Indianapolis.
University of Kentucky