Wednesday, June 10, 2015

USA D3 Volleyball - Overnight travel and playing a pro team

Our first day in Brazil was a LONG one! Thank goodness for a group who are fun, adventurous, and givers! It started with a 9 hour overnight flight where most of us got a maximum of two hours of sleep, if we were lucky. Fortunately, that was the worst part of the day.

As the sun came up, we flew over the Amazon River and then continued south to land in São Paulo, a city with 16 million people! It seemed like the city went on forever with endless high rise apartment buildings. Once we were off the plane, we had our bags, were through customs, and on a really nice bus in less than an hour. As we made our way to Jundiai, we fought our urge to sleep to take in the sights, which included a pro soccer stadium and the parade route for Carnival. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at our hotel to eat a delicious buffet lunch, shower and rest for a few hours. I don't think a bed has ever felt so good!

Before we knew it, it was time to load the bus again and head to Campinos for our first match. As we started to warm up and get a feel for the court, our opponents showed up. We played the Division B pro team Valinhos. They had about 20 players on the roster (ranging in age from 23-30) including a 6'7" middle blocker! Warm ups were different from what our players are accustomed.  We did shared hitting where we got our first glimpse of what we were up against, as the Valinhos players grunted loudly as they crushed balls. We also played with the international purple and yellow balls for the first time for most of our players. They have a very different feel from the leather balls we use in the U.S.  Despite all of the differences and lack of sleep, our team played great and challenged our opponents in all aspects of the game. We ended up playing five sets (all to 25). While we lost all of the sets, we continued to get better as the girls got more and more comfortable playing together, and, most importantly, our energy and competive spirit stayed consistently high throughout the match.

The real highlight of the day was after our match when we had the chance to spend time hanging out with the Valinhos players, learning Portuguese, taking selfies, swapping shirts and Instagram names, sharing music, and laughing with each other. It was so much fun to see the similarities and differences and learn from each other!

We also got to watch our men's team play for the first time. They played a Masters level (30-40 year olds) team and lost in an exciting five set match. By the time they finished, it was after 10pm, and we were all starving! So, we headed to a local pizzeria near our hotel which was completely different from American pizza. There were all kinds of delicious combinations (none of which resembled our pizza except the crust) that they brought around to the table to take whatever you wanted. There was even dessert pizza with Neapolitan ice cream on top! After we all had our fill, we finally got to our rooms around 12:30am and slept the best I ever have on the road!

So far, we have not been disappointed with the hospitality of our Brazilian friends, the quality of volleyball, or the unusual experiences! Looking forward to another great day! Estamos animado para outro dia!

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