If achievement begins with the expansion of one’s horizons, the 2017 Arkansas Tech University volleyball team already has a head start on continuing the program’s championship tradition.
Head coach Kristy Bayer and the Golden Suns took a 10-day tour of Italy during the month of June. Such adventures provide NCAA intercollegiate athletics teams with the dual benefit of additional preparation for their upcoming season and the opportunity to explore new cultures.
“A big movement in college athletics right now is providing student-athletes the opportunity to study abroad,” said Bayer. “During my tenure here I have raised some money through camps, and I thought this would be a really good thing to invest in. As I was researching different places to travel, one of the more popular places for student-athletes was Italy.”
Bayer, Tech’s all-time leader in volleyball coaching victories with 329, said the additional practices and matches should give her team an advantage heading into the 2017 season.
“It gave us an extra opportunity for our team to gel, and for us to get our team chemistry going before we hit the fall season,” said Bayer.
The Golden Suns went 3-0 in their Italian exhibition matches, but their undefeated record did not come easily.
“I feel like (the Italian teams) were very well-trained in all areas of the game,” said Bayer, who has led Tech to five regular season conference titles, three Great American Conference Tournament championships and three appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament. “Whereas an American player may be specialized and really good in one part of volleyball, these players (in Italy) were very good all-around players. We may have had a little more size than they did, but I felt like they knew the game a little better than we did.”
Sophomore Ellie Perkins also observed several differences in the Italian style of play.
“It was an interesting experience as the customs were different down to the little things such as warm-up style,” wrote Perkins in a blog posted at www.arkansastechsports.com after the first match in Italy. “We started off a bit slow, but got in our groove and wound up winning our match in five sets. It was fun to play against a team with such a different style, and they were very talented.”
Among the sites the group visited during time away from the court were the Square of Miracles, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Reading the team’s blog leaves one with the impression that a fair amount of authentic Italian pizza was consumed along the way.
“I thought our student-athletes did a really good job of learning the culture, trying new foods, learning the language and learning about the history of the different places we went to,” said Bayer. “We did a lot of pre-trip planning in terms of the educational side of things. We learned about the places we were going to, and I felt like it meant a lot more since we had that additional background.”
Redshirt freshman Tabitha Spray marveled at the sight of the Alps mountain range in one of the blog posts.
“We have mountains in Arkansas, but nothing like this,” wrote Spray. “They surround us from every angle with unimaginable height. Every inch is covered with dense vegetation.”
It was exactly that kind of experience that inspired Bayer to book the trip in the first place.
“You’re not just going to come (to Tech) to play volleyball,” said Bayer. “It’s also going to be a learning experience and an educational experience. These girls probably never thought they’d have the opportunity to go to a foreign country, and now many of them have that urge to travel abroad. We already have some of them signed up to take international trips next year. It got these girls excited about something outside of their comfort zone.”