Sights, Competition, Food and Bonding in Italy and Slovenia

June 20, 2012

It has been nearly two weeks since the New Mexico volleyball team returned to the States from its 12-day excursion to Italy and Slovenia. The Lobos have had time to get back into their normal routines and fully reflect on the trip that featured six matches against the Italian and Slovenian Junior National teams and an Austrian club team, as well as plenty of sightseeing in Milan, Rome, Venice and Maribor, Slovenia.

Senior Jordan Russell says it tops her list for best trips she's taken--especially because it was a chance to share the experience of exploring a new place a with her teammates.

"I had never been to Europe--it was a whole new experience and I think it was like that for most of us," Russell said. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of competition and a lot of sightseeing. Overall, it was one of the best times I've had, especially with the team."

She, along with juniors Miquella Lovato and Ashley Newman, agreed that the time in Italy and Slovenia was perhaps most importantly an opportunity for the Lobos to bond.

"Not many teams get the chance to train together and play together as a team during the summer and we were able to do that," Newman said.

"We got so much closer being together that whole time," Lovato added. "Of course, we already know each other but experiencing something new really helped us bond."

The Lobos' journey began in Milan with three days of sightseeing and two matches against the Italian Junior National Team. The team then headed to Rome for two days, one of which was spent exploring The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters.

Russell says Rome was her favorite part of the journey.

"There were so many sightseeing opportunities," she said. "We spent two full days there--no practice or playing, so it was really nice and relaxing to see all the history there and get to spend time as a team."

The group then took a four-hour train ride to Venice where they took gondola rides and were educated on the history of the city and the canal system. Shopping and exploring the city were also part of the day.

It was then on to Maribor, Slovenia. The team spent three days in mountainous Maribor, getting in two matches against the Slovenian Junior National Team and one against an Austrian club team as well as more sightseeing, riding a ski lift into the mountains, completing a ropes course and going down an alpine slide.

Junior Ashley Newman says the time in Maribor was a highlight for her.

"Slovenia was my favorite part," she said. "Think about the greenest hills--everything is green and lush and you're surrounded by green trees."

Head coach Jeff Nelson agreed that Slovenia's scenery was a favorite for him too. He also enjoyed some of the down time the team had during that part of the trip.

"When we were in Italy there was so much sightseeing and so much walking--we were always on the go," Nelson said. "Then when we got to Slovenia things slowed down a bit. Both places were nice, but for me personally, I liked being in the mountains in Slovenia. We were able to hang out, practice and play and enjoy it."

The team then headed back to Milan, sneaking in a little more sightseeing before heading home.

An overall highlight for several Lobos was the food and gelato and bread were staples of the tourists' diets.

"It was interesting to see the way they prepared their food--everything was fresh," Lovato said.

The Lobos did put in some quality court time while abroad, and all agreed that the six matches were excellent opportunities for the team to play together and a chance to go against a different style of volleyball.

"It was good to see other competition and competition other than U.S. teams," Russell said. "Everyone here has different systems but we all play that same pace volleyball. Europeans run a high set, so it was different and it was good to compete against teams that aren't going at the same pace as us."

UNM went an even 3-3 in matches and won 15 of the 26 games they played.

Nelson says his young Lobos played inconsistent at times, but then had streaks of great play.

"It's a higher, more physical game and we definitely had to make some adjustments," Nelson said. "We played against some really good athletes. We got to see some really big blocks, which was important for us for the fall. We worked through it--I can't say enough about how good that was for us.

"I thought the Italian Junior National Team was really good," he said. "They had an outstanding setter and we were able to beat them with her playing."

The Lobos have a few weeks to enjoy summer--no doubt relishing in the memories of Italy and Slovenia--before getting back to volleyball business.

New Mexico's alumni exhibition match is slated for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18 in Johnson Center.

The Lobos open regular-season play at home with the Lobo Classic which features matches against Southern and Duquesne. UNM's first match is against Southern at 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24.

New Mexico Volleyball Announces 2012 Schedule