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Jun 20, 2023

2023 Foreign Tour Diary

Final Tour Thoughts - Jackie Simpson Kirr (Head Coach)

During a recruiting trip last summer, I was having dinner with Ryan Owens, who played for the Men’s National Team and now lives in Split, Croatia. It was during this dinner that he shared with me his dream and vision of creating a tour experience that had deeper meaning beyond just playing some matches and seeing some sites. We have a shared belief about how powerful athletics can be for personal growth in people’s lives. I am happy to say that vision became reality for our program this summer.

So, our journey in this moment truly began over a year ago as Ryan and I developed a wholistic itinerary designed for personal and team development on and off the court. Volleyball opportunities included youth clinics to work with and inspire younger players, a friendly tournament with teams from the Balkan region and time with current and former professional volleyball players. Off the court, we had high intensity excursions that required trust and communication like ATVs to see wild horses and white water rafting. We had two different boating days to swim and explore various islands. There was also times that were needed for the team to relax at the beach, recover at the spa and shop in the various city centers.

Built into the cadence of the trip designed to balance the high intensity and relaxation was two days in the Plitvice National Park. A moment to disconnect from phones while hiking in one of the most world renowned parks, followed by a mindfulness yoga session with a former Team Germany Middle and current psychologist and yoga teacher, Berit Kauffeldt, allowed for our team to have multiple moments specifically carved out for reflection and sharing. This was truly unlike any other tour I have experienced.

This team is full of so many personalities. I laughed a lot on this trip. They are funny, kind, fearless, empathetic, driven and passionate. There were so many big adventures, but it’s the moments in-between where the bonds were truly formed. The bus ride laughter, the dinner conversations, the walks to the gym, the treasure hunting on the beach or searching for the best gelato were all so special. I’m also grateful that the team was able to spend time with our staff away from the court to have conversations just as humans. There is an openness and trust that was built that we will be able to lean into during times of stress and adversity in the fall because of the moments we had on this trip.

When looking back on the trip, I was most surprised by the openness to new experiences, especially with how young our team is and how many have never traveled out of the country. Many of the excursions were optional and almost everyone said yes to the opportunity, including a full group participation on the ATVs!

My favorite moments from the trip happened both on and off the court. When it comes to the volleyball side, I loved watching our team connect with the athletes from the other teams. It was fun hearing them talk about what they learned from their different experiences. From an excursion standpoint, my favorite part was the ATVs. There was a group of us that had a competition to see who could get the muddiest. I was between Mac (Mia McGrath) and Azyah (Dailey). Over the course of the four hours, we somehow organically developed our own communication system to signal the large mud puddles and keep our spacing.

I can say I was very impressed with the intentionality each athlete had to spend time with each other. Every time we broke up into small groups or sat down at dinner, the small groups included different people. In my 15 years of college coaching, I have never seen a team so committed to building meaningful relationships with everyone. It’s something our returners talked about wanting to focus on this spring, and they really brought it to life on this trip. Many teams talk about it, few actually do it.

When people leave their comfort zones is often when the biggest areas of growth happen. Taking a group on a foreign tour was a big step outside of our traditional comfort areas. One of the success principles of Own Today is “small things, big difference.” I feel our biggest growth as individuals amongst both the student-athletes and the staff and then as a full team was in mindfulness. From learning how to navigate new places with language barriers and different cultural expectations to setting an intention for a drill, our group operated with purpose and stayed present during our experience.

The opportunity to take this tour with our program was beyond anything what I could have imagined. Starting from training camp, the time we had to introduce our program expectations, success principles and technical and tactical packages will allow us to train at a higher level come August. Multiple teams we competed against commented that it seemed we had been together for years, not just three weeks. With so many new players on the roster, to be able to have some competition this early on together is huge. We still have so much to learn about one another, but we got a huge head start on this trip. As our team and staff moves forward, I hope we can all look back and be inspired by the professional players they had time to learn from. I also hope they realize how blessed we are for the resources provided by Clemson and IPTAY.

June 16, 2023 - Haley Bilbruck & Devan Taylor

Haley (Director of Operations):

Today we were able to go back out into the Adriatic Sea on a large boat and stop in a couple different coves to swim and relax with the team. Honestly, it’s great to be back in Split. It has been my favorite part of the trip so far, so I feel very blessed that we got to circle back and end the trip in a relaxing and refreshing way. My favorite part of the day was when we originally stopped the boat and the crew took out all of the water sport supplies: paddle boards, tubes, etc. Seeing the team being able to interact in that setting outside of our sport was fantastic. My role back home is very hands on, and this trip I have only been responsible for getting the team to Europe and then our return travel. This trip has very different for me because my job because everything during our trip was left to Elite Level Volley Global, who has done a great job. It has allowed me to take a step back and look at the team from a new perspective outside of just my office position. Being able to interact and learn more about not just our student-athletes but about the coaching and support staff as well has been great. Being able to take a trip like this helps to build the chemistry beyond what anyone realizes. Especially with this group that has so many freshmen for this year’s class, as well as the number of newcomers from last season. To have such a young group and get a jumpstart to other teams that aren’t taking a foreign tour is huge. It’s time that you literally can’t replicate anywhere else. It has been awesome to see our upperclassmen in particular take on these seven new freshmen and bring them under their wing to navigate our system on the court and through travel. They are literally learning the ins and outs of what it is like to be a member of our team outside of the United States, which is something I know a lot of us haven’t done before. As I reflect on the last couple weeks, I think my favorite part is two-fold. The first is being outside so much because we play an indoor sport, and I work a lot of my time in the office, so to be able to outside in a different setting every day has been great. I also greatly enjoyed the ATV experience in Bosnia. Unless you were there, it’s really hard to describe how beautiful the atmosphere was. I know a lot of our team had never been on an ATV before, so it was a two-part adventure wrapped into one.

Devan (Junior):

Today we went back out on another boat. It was really fun because on an old pirate ship that beached in Normandy during World War II, so I thought that was cool. It was interesting to be on and see the different pieces of it. It was a really good time being on the boat. We all had a blast the last time we went on separate boats, and this time, we were able to be on one boat together. It was fun to just be around everybody. I am personally a little afraid of the ocean, but I conquered my fear by jumping off the boat and found it to not be that scary. It was a good day overall, and I thought it was a great way to end the trip with everyone being together. I think this trip was a great thing for us as a team heading into a new season. You don’t get the opportunity every year to have a two week bonding session with people. With our team being a majority of new people, I think this will only be beneficial to us leading into the fall. We have already made such a strong connection with one another in this short time and not very many teams get the opportunity to do that. I think that will be a difference maker for us during the season. This trip has been great to get out of the states. Being in a new environment, we get to see each other’s true sides and how we react in different situations. As a rising upperclassman, it’s been fun to be able to answer the questions that our curious freshman have. They are always looking to people with an eagerness and curiosity about how we do things and what Clemson is truly about. It’s been fun to be there and be helpful to them. It’s going to sound cheesy, but my favorite part was the tournament in Bosnia and getting to play volleyball. That is obviously what we came here to do, and the excursions are fun, but playing against the different teams and doing a jersey swap at the end of the tournament is something I will never forget.

June 15, 2023 - Mia McGrath & Sophie Catalano

Mia (Sophomore):

Today we were on the bus for a long time. We ate breakfast around 7:20 a.m. at the hotel in Dubrovnik and then left around 8 a.m. Around noon, we stopped to get coffee and some snacks, but we didn’t actually make it to our hotel in Split until late afternoon. That meant we spent most of the day on the bus, where a lot of us were able to catch up on sleep. We also played the game mafia which gets the entire team involved and brings out our competitive sides away from the volleyball court. It’s always super fun because of our conversations, which I love. After we got to the hotel, we went and played some volleyball while running a local clinic with some younger players here in Croatia. It was a lot of fun because we got to play with multiple age groups and talk to them about volleyball. We returned to our hotel for dinner, and I followed that up with ping pong against Quinn (Lukens). We played five different games because neither of us could settle with the other winning. Ultimately, he did win the fifth game, but it was a great battle. This entire trip has been about bonding and building relationships. Like a lot of people have said, we are such a new team with a lot of young faces in the program that sometimes it is difficult to create those bonds early on, especially if you are waiting until August to start that process. With this group of freshmen, we have all become super close, so I’m really grateful that we had this opportunity to, not only come to Europe, but to be able to hangout as a group for this long of a span in June. Being in Europe is amazing and such a cool opportunity to have with this group of people. Looking back at the entire trip, my favorite part was getting to ride ATVs because I love doing that with my family back home, and it is so cool to be able to do it in the countryside of Europe. I also did love the boat day though because we got to take four different boats in smaller groups and swim and hangout in a relaxed environment. It was amazing.

Sophie (Sophomore):

Today we had a pretty relaxed day, which was nice as the trip starts to wind down. It worked out because the weather was pretty rainy and overcast. We were making the trip from Dubrovnik to Split for the final leg of our tour. We took a pretty long bus ride, but we had a great time and had a lot of fun on the bus. We were scheduled to go zip lining, but sadly the weather didn’t hold out for us. It was fine though because we were able to make it to the hotel and grab some lunch before we headed to the gym for a volleyball clinic. We met a lot of different girls while we were there and had the opportunity to talk with each of them about their experiences. It’s interesting to see how they live and the different resources they have available to play volleyball. One thing we are grateful for is that we have the facilities that we have back at Clemson. We are reminded of that when we look around and listen to what their day-to-day looks like and how it’s different from ours. After we finished up the clinic, we came back to the hotel and grabbed some dinner and headed to bed to get ready for our final day. I think we are all really grateful to be able to go on this foreign tour. I think the timing actually worked out perfect for us with how many new players joined our team. We are a really young team but all super driven. It’s been a great time for us to be together and have a bunch of extra time to get to know one another before the season starts which is really really nice. It’s a great head start to our fall season. To be able to meet so many new people not just with our program but also the numerous pro players we were able to connect with that were so helpful and provided a different perspective on volleyball and life was nice. When I look back on the entire trip, I think the fan-favorite activity was the boat day in Split. It is definitely one of my favorite days because we had an entire day that we were out on speed boats together where we went to different bays to swim and just hang out with one another. I also really enjoyed the morning sunrise hike. It was a lot of fun to overlook Split while the sun was rising and then to be able to come back and spend the rest of the day at the beach and hanging out in downtown Split was a highlight for me.

June 14, 2023 - Caroline Sele

Caroline (Sophomore):

Today was a really chill day. We woke up and went down to the beach where we were able to grab some breakfast. The whole team was able to go swimming in the Adriatic Sea. We put on our goggles and did a little underwater exploring. A lot of people went pretty far out into the water, but I decided to stay on the beach and read a book. It did start to rain, so we decided to head inside and relax there. Mckenna (Slavik) and I decided to play a video game. I don’t remember the name of it, but I enjoyed it. Afterwards, Mckenna, Sophie (Catalano) and I walked around our hotel. We were able to get a lot of steps in because our hotel is huge. It is super pretty and a lot greener in the rain and is just overall a beautiful place to be. After we grabbed some dinner, we made the decision to head back down to the beach because the sun started to make another appearance and warm everything up. It just made sense to head back down to the beach and pools. This entire trip has just been a great opportunity to get to know everyone. I’ve especially have enjoyed getting to know the freshmen because we met them roughly 10-11 days before we left on this trip. I think this is a really special group and this trip has made it possible to know everyone so much better. I feel I even know my fellow sophomores on a whole new level. It has been so beneficial to spend so much uninterrupted time with everyone. Getting to know my teammates outside of volleyball has been special because I know them really well on the court, but it’s nice to dive a little deeper and learn about who they are off the court. My favorite part of the trip was definitely the boat day in Split. Getting to hang with all of my teammates while listening to music was really fun. We’ve also had a few pro volleyball players join us for at different stages of this trip, and it has been really cool to hear a lot of different stories from them about their experiences and the different career paths there are in volleyball.

June 13, 2023 - Katie Culumovic

Katie (Graduate):

Today we woke up and got some breakfast before hopping on the bus super early this morning. I was able to catch up on some sleep while on the bus because I have been going to bed really late, but I was only asleep for about an hour and a half. When I woke up, I had to get a lot of homework done and used the bus ride to be very productive with my day getting roughly five hours of homework done while everyone else continued to sleep. Once we arrived in Dubrovnik, my initial thought of the town was how pretty it was. It reminds me a lot of our time earlier this trip in Split, but I feel there are more buildings here. The water is super pretty and our hotel is huge. I happy we get the opportunity to see another place. We spent the evening walking around the city center doing a little shopping and had some dinner. We ended the day we a haunted tour of the city at night which was a lot of fun. Our tour guide was amazing because she gave us so much information about the history of Dubrovnik and what this place means to her. It was really cool to learn about this place and everything that has happened here in its history. This entire foreign tour experience has been really cool for me. I kept telling everyone that I didn’t have any expectations coming into it because I had never been to Europe before, and I didn’t even know that this was possible for me a few months ago, or even a year ago at this time. I didn’t know if I was going to take my fifth year, so this has been really special getting to come on this trip, especially with this group of girls. I have had a lot of people ask what this experience has been like compared to other places, and I keep telling them that I am grateful for my last institution, but this is a completely different experience. I am so happy that I was brought in to this group of teammates because it is so special. This trip has brought me so close to each of them. I never thought I could get this close to a group of girls in such a short amount of time. I spent four years with my last group of teammates and bonded with them, and I never thought I would get the opportunity to make those type of friendships with another team, especially in a shorter amount of time. It is special to me that I was able to make even more friends and that the sport of volleyball has brought me to another phenomenal group of people. When I look back on the trip so far, my favorite part has been the boat day in Split. I am a big beach girl and being able to be out in the sun with not only my teammates but the entire staff as well was huge. Spending the day out in the sun with the beautiful weather allowed for a great day with good vibes.  I feel like my relationships with every person tied to this program have grown because of this trip.

June 12, 2023 - Mia Moore & McKenna Gildon

Mia (Sophomore):

We got up this morning and did something out of the normal for us. Every student-athlete and staff member left their phone at the hotel so that we could enjoy each other’s company while we went on a hike at the national park. We went on a beautiful path through the park to see all of the waterfalls and wildlife. It was really fun to be able to connect with everyone and talk to them without having social media or any additional distractions that we traditionally have when interacting with others. After we finished the hike, we came back to the hotel, ate lunch and then took a nap. Once I woke up from the nap, we had a team yoga session, which was really nice because I felt a sense of relief from stress and the outside things that are going on right now. It was a very relaxed day. This trip as a whole has really meant a lot and is a crazy opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime experience because if I never come back to Europe, at least I got to come with Clemson volleyball. I’ll always remember that and am grateful to be able to do that with some of my best friends. It’s just a really fun trip that I am enjoying because I get to connect with not only with my teammates but the coaches and support staff as well. I’m been able to meet new people and build strong connections with everyone I have crossed paths with. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for this experience and opportunity. When I reflect on the trip, I do have to say my favorite part was being in Split and getting to go on the boat ride. It was fun to play our own music and have fun with everyone on the boat is something I’m going to remember for a long time. Also getting to try the Kinder Bueno gelato is at the top of my favorite’s list.

McKenna (Freshman):

First we got up today and ate breakfast in the hotel lobby. Breakfast was very good because there was a lot of options. Then, we departed by bus to the Croatia National Park to see the Plitvice Lakes. We met our tour guide and took a train further down the path to be able to hike back up. It was raining a little, so some of us were able to get ponchos to prepare for the hike. We walked along the trail and saw some really beautiful water falls and some wildlife that included frogs while overlooking clear blue water. We took a few pictures along the way before we came back to the hotel to have lunch. We were served a whole fish, which was interesting. I tried it and thought it was pretty good besides having the bones still inside, but I’m glad I tried it. We had a little down time after lunch where most of the girls took a quick 45 minute nap. After that, we met with Berit for a yoga session where we got to do some mindfulness and breathing exercises. Then we ate dinner that included some good cake and finished the evening with some games with teammates. I think being able to take this trip as a freshman is a great opportunity to bond with my teammates and get to know them both on the court and their personalities away from it. I’ve been able to talk to different people throughout each day. Getting to figure this stuff out, especially while traveling, can be stressful. It’s been nice to get to know each other on a one-on-one level. Overall, I have enjoyed the trip, but my favorite part of the trip was our time in Split, Croatia because it’s beautiful and the hotel we stayed at was really nice with friendly staff and people all around. I have truly enjoyed every part of this adventure though.

June 11, 2023 - Dan O'Keefe & Ava Hewitt

Dan (Assistant Coach):

Today was awesome! We got to play some volleyball and end the tournament on a championship day. We were able to see our new players compete and be challenged for the first time. It was really fun because the energy in the gym was so loud. We had a lot of interesting environments that our players weren’t used to between noise makers and drones flying around capturing footage, so there were a lot of distractions that they had to work through. I think it was really great to see us compete in that setting and find a way to raise our level of communication amongst ourselves. After we finished the tournament, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the next leg of our trip. We were able to grab lunch at this amazing place in Banja Luka. Our players have been craving some food from home, and our tour guy, Ryan, was able to find some pasta, salad and pizza options as a nice treat after all of the cultural experiences we have been able to have on the cuisine side. Once we finished lunch, we got on the bus to make the trip back over the boarder to Croatia where we checked into a hotel in a mountainside. It has a lodge and rural feel, which will be a great way for us to get some rest after a long weekend of competing while getting to explore the outdoors for a couple days. This entire trip has been so interesting to see how the newcomers are interacting with our returners. One thing that is very important to us as a staff is that you don’t need to be an upperclassman to be a leader or have a voice in the program. It’s been cool to see some of the returners mentor the newcomers on how we do different things and operate as a program, but we also have seen a lot of the newcomers step into some leadership roles and have a voice both in their play on the floor and their communication while traveling. I’ve really enjoyed that aspect. The biggest thing I want everyone to get out of a tour like this is honing in on the gratitude aspect that we talk about in our program so much. Everyone I’ve talked to is grateful to have a once in a lifetime experience as an individual on this trip by getting to explore this part of the world. Getting to do it as a team makes it even more special, and I know it is going to be something that this team always remembers moving forward. I believe this trip and bonding moments are something that will carry over onto the court in the fall. There have been so many moments and excursions provided for everyone to bond, but it’s all the little moments in-between the fun activities on this trip that will really made a difference for us in the long run. When I reflect on this trip, my favorite part was getting to spend my 28th birthday in Banja Luka and going white water rafting. I don’t think I have laughed that long or that hard for an extended period of time. My stomach and abs were sore this morning after laughing so hard with the players in my boat. It was really cool to spend my birthday, that I traditionally spend with friends and family back home, waking up with my new Clemson volleyball family in Banja Luka. It will always be really special to me.

Ava (Freshman):

Our day was really cool. We started it by finishing up the volleyball tournament in Banja Luka. The games provided the first opportunity where we could all really mesh with one another on the court against different opponents. As a freshman, it was great to have the chance to compete alongside my teammates. We only have three middles on our team, so I got to play in both games today and see the difference in how everyone was playing. It gave me a chance to see how the two teams communicated and gelled together in different, yet effective, ways. After we finished, we spent time on the bus traveling. While on the bus, there were a lot of laughs and fun with everyone between taking a nap and enjoying some snacks. Now we are at this beautiful hotel in the woods that is so pretty. The food and people have been amazing this entire trip. I have personally learned through this trip to give myself grace. I am very hard on myself. This process has really opened my eyes and understand that I don’t have to be perfect all the time, and I can’t be 100 percent all the time. By giving myself grace, especially while in a foreign country and far from home, allows me to get in a mindset that can provide myself grace once we get back to campus, and I’m still out of my normal comfort zones. After only being a Tiger for a couple weeks, it has been such a fun and unique experience to get to know my teammates as well as what I am on this trip. I genuinely feel like we are a big happy family and that I can go to any of my teammates about anything and know they are there for me. Truly getting to know everyone has been my favorite part of the trip so far. I feel like we have all gotten closer, and I love this group of girls and the friendship we have formed. Everyone has made it so easy to not feel as home sick as I thought I would be transitioning into college and a new team because of how great the support system has been.

June 10, 2023 - Becca Micelle

Becca (Sophomore):

We started the day with a really early breakfast at the hotel before we walked over to the gym to begin our tournament in Banja Luka. Once we got to the gym, our team was split into two different groups so that we could maximize our reps and time on the court. The two teams were split pretty evenly between freshmen and upperclassmen to be able to have a good mixture of everything. My team started the day off with the first game that we won in three sets. After we had finished, we were able to leave for a little while to go to a park next to the gym where we had a quick bite of pizza to eat. We were all really hungry, so we were happy to be able to snack on that. After we finished eating, we returned to the gym for our second game of the day against a new opponent. Once the games were over for the day, we walked back to the hotel and ended up doing an active recovery with some stretching, yoga and meditation at a park nearby. We followed that with lunch at the park that consisted of different meats and some fries. We returned to the hotel for some down time before ending the evening with a team dinner at the hotel. When I look back at the tournament today, I think about how great and fun it was to be able to intermix the freshmen and upperclassmen between the two teams. Adding new players in the gym is always great, and to be able to play next to my new teammates in an actual competition setting rather than just practice was cool. All of the newcomers get along so well with our returners, and it was fun to be able to play with one another. When I look at this trip as a whole, I think my favorite part was getting to do the ATVs. It’s something that I’ve done before with my brothers, so to be able to share this experience with my teammates was so cool.

June 9, 2023 - Taylor Unroe and Kate Simington

Taylor (Associate Head Coach):

Today we left Split and traveled to a little town outside of Banja Luka to white water raft, which was very fun. This area is quite different from Split which was more of a beach vibe to now more of a city feel and makes for a good changeup from where we were. We had a quick trip from white water rafting to the city for a practice session where we got to get used to the gym we would be playing in for the tournament this weekend. I think the team looks good. We have had them going nonstop, so it’s an excited tired. They were able to knock some of the rust off in the gym and get a good night’s sleep to be able to go out and compete tomorrow. We are splitting the team into two smaller groups so they can get lots of reps and play a lot over the next two days. I am excited to see them get into a little more of a routine with this tournament play and pumped to see some of the younger players compete because I know they are excited. I think this group has really learned how to function as human beings outside of their parents or their routine in Clemson. I am seeing a lot of the older and more experienced players take the lead in a lot of situations. They are figuring out how to help guide one another and have been helping each other figure out each step of this trip. I think the biggest growths I have seen from them have been in those areas because they have to. They aren’t always able to just speak English to everyone or get on their phones super quick to find the answer or immediately know something. They have been really awesome at helping each other navigate these areas. We have been able to help redirect them and provide the student-athletes tools that they can use moving forward through college and future travel opportunities in their lives. It has been a big goal of the coaching staff to help them further develop their critical thinking skills around those areas. It has been so fun and enjoyable to get to watch the players interact with one another on this trip. You see different groups of players with one another at any given time. It’s nice to see and not have to worry about players only engaging with their class or their closest friends. This trip is great for the underclassmen to get to experience these moments with our upperclassmen, and it’s so good to see our upperclassmen realize how much guidance and leadership they have left to share. They are truly creating lasting impact on the younger players and seeing that is always good for the soul. This is a very grateful group, and I’m impressed to see them navigating this journey together. As I reflect on the trip so far, I would say my favorite part has to be the boat day in Split. I love the water, so it was nice to have that day out in the sun. We had no where else to be but the water, which was great.

Kate (Freshman):

We woke up bright and early this morning to hop on a five-hour bus ride from Croatia to Bosnia. A lot of the players slept, which was a good decompression period because we have all been having a lot of fun and needed to catch up on some sleep. Once we got to Bosnia, we went white water rafting. I was very nervous to do it but quickly realized that it was relaxing and fun. I was in the same raft as Coach Dan (O’Keefe). It was so fun to see that side of him and how he reacted while we were rafting because that’s not a normal setting to see a coach in very often. The instructor that we had was amazing. She is on the Bosnian National Team for rafting, so she had so much knowledge and stories to tell us. Afterwards, we took a bus to the hotel to prep for practice. During our downtime, I was able to go and get some pizza with Adria (Powell), which was pretty good. We came back and went to practice and to run a clinic. We coached some younger girls and then had a normal Clemson practice session. We ended the night with a rooftop dinner at our hotel. So far on the trip, my favorite part was when we had our boat day. It was so relaxing. We were all in the sun and got to have a dance party on our boat, which was so fun to do as a group. Being an incoming freshman, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to come in early and be on this trip. We are getting a lot of the nitty-gritty work out of the way so that we can dive deeper into the little things rather than learning the basics. It’s also really helped me connect with my teammates because coming in, I didn’t know anyone very well, but now I feel like we are all sisters.

June 8, 2023 - Katie Hurta

Katie (Redshirt Freshman):

To start the day, we exited our hotel and walked over to the marina to get on a boat. We ended up splitting our group into smaller sections so that roughly 12 people were on each boat between the players and the staff. There were loungers on the back of the boat that allowed us to spread out our towels and lay in the sun while we traveled to different destinations and listened to music. We ended up docking in a little alcove with each of the boats tied up to one another so that we could jump off the boat, swim and explore the clear blue water for around an hour. Afterwards, we got back on the boat to head to lunch at this really cool tavern where we found out that the place had been in the owner’s family for over 800 years. Once we finished the excellent food, we made the trek back to the boats to make the journey back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We ended the evening with a sunset dinner on top of a mountain that overlooked the water. Both the views and the food were amazing. When I think about what I have enjoyed most about the trip, I think of all the incredible food I have been able to try. There are so many different meats and cheeses that I don’t normally have, and I think it’s so cool to try the different kinds. I traditionally wouldn’t think to pair cheese, bread and prosciutto or have the opportunity to try lamb, so it’s been a unique experience getting to try everything. I have also tried every kind of coffee from the different places we have been to, which is nice. As a whole, we have a lot of new people coming in and joining the trip this season, so being able to bond on this trip and have two weeks where we get to know not only the players, but the coaches and support staff as well, is going to really help us with our gel and chemistry going into the fall. We’ll have a head start on the teams that don’t have these chances with one another, or even get the chance to meet each other until the fall. It’s been a great trip overall, especially getting to know everyone.

June 7, 2023 - Quinn Lukens and Adria Powell

Quinn (Graduate Manager):

I woke up this morning and had a beautiful breakfast spread at the hotel. I was able to sit outside and look at all the yachts driving and floating by, which was incredible. I spent about two and a half hours swimming in the Adriatic Sea and enjoying the sun. Then we went on an unbelievable four hour ATV excursion complete with wild horses, which is crazy that this is one of the only places in the world with wild horses. It rained a little, but we all had a great time. The day was incredible, and I can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience. This entire trip has been eye opening. This is my first time being overseas, so getting stamps in my passport is a big deal. The first five days have been great and knowing we still have a lot of trip left is incredible and awesome. Having a trip like this, the most impactful part is obviously having the team bond with each other and spend time together, but I also hope there is quite a bit of perspective gained about what we are able to do as part of the team and the privilege we have to be here and do things like this but also see what other parts of the world are like. I think spending time with the players outside the gym or just what we do on campus back home is an incredible opportunity for us as a team.

Adria (Graduate):

We started out the day by waking up at 4:30 a.m. to take a bus to Klis Fortress to hike. There were amazing views of the sunrise and be able to look over the entire city below us. We got to hike around that for a while. After that, we had breakfast around 6:30 that was amazing with great croissants and food. I love the expresso that the hotel offers. Following that, Sophie (Catalano) and I did a quick workout at the hotels gym that overlooked the water. A couple of us went swimming with goggles so that we could go snorkeling and dive down into the water that went out pretty deep. We saw a lot of cool things like sea urchins, stars fish and crabs. We were able to relax around the hotel for a little while before we hopped on a bus to Bosnia. The bus ride was fun, per usual, as we were singing songs and doing a little karaoke. Once we got to Bosnia, we got on our ATVs. We were gone about 4-5 hours and traveled throughout the mountains to see wild horses. It was my first time on an ATV, so it was a great experience and chance to see all the views. We capped the night with a quick dinner before making the drive back to Croatia. This trip has been great and given me two top moments so far: 1. being able to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris since it was my first time in France in general because it seemed like something out of a movie, and 2. being able to swim in the ocean with all my teammates while exploring there because I love to swim. It has been a great experience overall with this group. I think we are all really great humans that get along really well. I think it is perfect timing with so many people joining the team and it being so young and having a couple older transfers. This trip really bonds us together and given our team a lot of opportunities to intermix amongst ourselves. It is making us grow very strong relationships amongst the team and the staff.

June 6, 2023 - Azyah Dailey and Audrey Armbruster

Azyah (Junior):

Today, the team woke up and ate a great breakfast before we headed into the city center in Split, Croatia. All of us really enjoyed the city center. We went shopping and were able to grab souvenirs from different shops that we can bring back to the states. They had different hat, sunglass, jewelry, restaurants and gelato shops that we were able to explore. Our team really enjoyed Zara because we didn’t expect it to be there. When we did see it, it was exciting and where we spent a good portion of our day. After lunch, we came back to the hotel and hopped directly into the pool. It was beautiful! We also got to go to the beach since our hotel is directly on the beach. It was absolutely breathtaking! I love the water, especially being a Florida girl, so it was fun to experience the beauty of this country around what I love. Afterwards, we grabbed some dinner at the hotel that included some delicious desserts. We ended the evening getting together to take pictures and make Tik Toks with one another. I have had some amazing food while being on this trip in both France and now Croatia. Today though, I grabbed something I originally tried yesterday and thought was so good, I had to get another. It is called a Forest Fairy and you get it at a gelato shop. It’s basically berry ice cream on top of a homemade donut that you watch them make in front of you that is filled with Nutella and topped with berries. This entire trip has just been an amazing experience. We are only five days in, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. I think this was the perfect time to go on this trip because our team has grown so much, not only in our maturity level, but in numbers as well with the amount of newcomers we have. This is right before the season and are all getting to know one another. Getting the opportunity to see things that I’ve only ever seen in postcards and movies has been so special. I’m excited to continue to do all the activities that are planned on this trip.

Audrey (Freshman):

We woke up pretty early for breakfast. I tried every breakfast item that the hotel provided, including the pancake, waffle and French toast. My favorite was the waffle. After we finished with breakfast, we got ready to go to Old Split and Diocletian’s Palace. We got to explore the shops that were there that included Zara. I was able to find four different items that I can take back with me. For lunch, we got gelato and smoothie bowls were all tasted amazing. Afterwards, we came back to the hotel and went to the beach, hot tub and pools to relax. We did dinner at the hotel and then went out as a group to take pictures and grab more gelato. We ended the evening just hanging out at the hotel. My favorite part of the day was going to Zara because I had never been to one in person. It is honestly crazy that this experience is happening. I don’t think it has hit me that we are actually in Croatia and had the opportunity to explore Paris like we did. It has been so crazy and so fun, especially to experience this as a freshman. Being able to build these bonds with one another while on the trip will be so beneficial as we move into the fall. We are all learning to know each other on a personal level, not just on the court, which will only help us as we gear up to play games.

June 5, 2023 - Kitty Sandt

Kitty (Freshman):

We woke up early this morning so that we could catch a flight from Paris to Split, Croatia. Once we landed and got to the hotel, we were able to have a little while to rest before we headed out to play volleyball with some younger kids. It gave us the opportunity to see what it is like to play volleyball in Croatia. Jackie mentioned early in the day that this trip is about bringing people together around the sport of volleyball and getting to play with these younger kids was exactly what we were doing. After practice, we got the opportunity to tour Old Split where we got to walk around and see these little shops while getting food and gelato together. We really got to experience a new culture and city while in the depths of it. My favorite part of the trip so far was seeing the Eiffel Tower yesterday, especially during the light show when it was sparkling. I think it was really cool to walk along the river and be able to watch something I have never experienced before.

June 4, 2023 - Maggie Patterson and Courtney Nix

Maggie (Sophomore):

Today was awesome! We woke up and had a fantastic French breakfast at our hotel. There were a lot of crepes and Nutella (probably too many crepes). It gave us the energy to continue exploring. We walked a neighborhood called Le Marais that had some unique and local shopping areas. We were able to do so much sight seeing, which was incredible. We saw places like Notre Dame, the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and a bunch of cool little gardens around the city. That led us into our lunch that consisted of meat and cheeses and of course, bread. That gave us the energy to head to the gym for our first training session of the foreign tour. We got to train alongside a local club and then chat with them afterwards about their lives. One of them was my age and in college in Paris, so it was cool to talk about the parallels and differences of our lives. We ended the evening by grabbing dinner and seeing a light show at the Eiffel Tower. My favorite part of our two days in Paris was getting to walk around Le Marais today. Sophie (Catalano) and I found a small secluded garden when we were walking. It appeared to be a secret from the tourist-type environment we have been seeing and a favorite amongst the locals. This entire trip is just an awesome opportunity. This was something that I never thought I would be able to do ever in my life. I didn’t realize that this could be reality to be. I get to travel Europe while playing volleyball with my best friends. We get to do everything together which is such a unique experience to have when you’re in college. I am so grateful for it.

Courtney (Freshman):

We woke up this morning in Paris and got to have this amazing breakfast. The croissants definitely lived up to their name! We got to split into a couple different groups for our morning activity, and I got the pleasure of going shopping with some of my teammates, which I really enjoyed. On our way to lunch, we got a little lost, but it added to the experience because we were able to interact with the locals. The group of us was able to hone in on the grit we talk about on a daily basis when we were asking different people to help us figure out the best way to go. It added to the immersion aspect of being in a different country and culture. During the afternoon, we practiced for the first time on the tour. The energy was super high and there was a lot of talk in the gym that made for a great experience. We ended the evening at the Eiffel Tower where we grabbed dinner and watched a light show. My favorite part of this trip is getting to experience the different culture. It’s a little different from the United States, but it is amazing. The people are so open and welcoming, and the food is great. Being able to go sight seeing and see places like the Eiffel Tower makes me so grateful for this opportunity. I miss my family and can’t wait to get back home, but I am beyond grateful to have this experience.

June 3, 2023 - Mckenna Slavik and Kennedy Wagner

Mckenna (Graduate):

Being in Paris is amazing. I love Paris. This is my second time being here, and it is always a blast. It was a tiring day from all the walking, but I’m excited to walk some more and further tour the city. There are so many things that I want to see here. It was a really fun day being able to walk around and learn about some of the history that’s here and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn if we hadn’t visited those places and all the little shops. The food is so much better. I don’t even know the proper words to describe it, it’s that good. It is so fresh and tastes so good, including the Nutella crepe I grabbed while we were on the walking tour. My favorite part of the day was walking by a man that was playing the accordion that had a cat sitting on top of it. Tomorrow, I am excited for our team picnic at the Eiffel Tower. I think it is going to be really cute and be a great spot for pictures. All in all, this is my second foreign tour. I am grateful to be on a second one, and the timing worked out perfect for me. I think it is so much fun to hear from some of my teammates who have never left the country before how crazy. It’s cool to be able to be here with them and experience these moments alongside them.

Kennedy (Freshman):

We landed pretty early this morning, probably 4 a.m. Eastern time, so it was a hard adjustment at first to the time change. When we arrived at the hotel, having a moment to sit down, eat some lunch and clean myself up from the flight helped to wake me up for a full afternoon touring the city. It was so much fun being able to explore and see how different it is from the United States. We were able to see what areas of the city were crowded and further learn how much everyone walks to different locations rather than driving. I know that is a big cultural shift from America, so it was a unique thing to look at. My favorite part of the day came towards the end of the day when we visited the Jardin des plants de Paris. Being able to see everyone chilling and know that that is where everyone goes to relax was cool. Looking ahead to tomorrow, I am most excited to see the Eiffel Tower in person.