The moment I knew this endeavor would be a trip of a lifetime was when I arrived in Los Angeles and met my first teammate at the airport. Both of us were so excited for what was ahead. When all 12 of our teamates got together before practice to hang out and chat, I quickly learned that the whole group was ready and eager to get things started. We immediately took to each other and bonded all throughout our first practice on Loyola Marymount’s campus and dinner that night before our redeye to Hong Kong. I couldn’t have imagined 11 better people or more talented athletes that I would’ve rather traveled the world and played volleyball with!
The 13 hour flight to Hong Kong and the 2 hour flight to Bangkok were draining, but I was so jacked up on adrenaline that the jet lag didn’t affect me too badly. I had never in my life been to any Asian country, so I came into this trip like an absolute sponge – ready to soak in all of the culture, atmosphere, and knowledge that I possibly could.
Our coaching staff was just about as world-class as it could ever get – coach Jeritt Elliott who led his team to the National Championship match in 2016 (and many before that), Paula Weishoff, a three-time Olympian, and Alyssa D’Errico, a four-time, undefeated National Champion. I sit here and reread that short – and shamefully oversimplified – bio and laugh at the fact that I actually got to be surrounded by these people for two weeks. Through all of the practices, matches, and film sessions in between, I successfully filled my journal halfway up with volleyball expertise alone when it was all said and done. I owe Jerritt, Paula, and Alyssa a debt that is irreparable for all they did for me and for my volleyball career in such a short time.
While our score sheets might not have shown it, we learned so much from every match we played and every opponent we faced. Playing the game with the Mikasa ball was incredibly humbling. Our ball control and overall comfort level on the court paled in comparison to that of the Thai National Team and the Supreme Professional Team. The Asian game was like organized chaos. There were so many things being thrown at us at such a quick rate, but all the while, the Thai teams were so relaxed and focused. However, we made the necessary adjustments, and I think that we made valuable progress as the tour went on. I am a better player after facing all of the new challenges and strategies presented to us by the Thai teams.
I would be doing this trip a grave injustice if I didn’t touch on the wealth of cultural exposure we received while on tour. We got to see three different temples, an island, a floating market, elephants, a night market, street-side food vendors (sounds trivial, but we were dazzled by these), an eight-story mall, and so much more. My favorite part was going to the night market, because it gave me a true feel for Thai culture and what life in Bangkok is really like. The US dollar is very strong in Thailand, so we all came away with lots of market merchandise. Bartering became a sixth sense for some of the girls, and it always ended up turning into a competition!
The last couple of people that are so important to thank are: Erin Leaser, our incredible BIP representative who kept us alive, on time, and dressed to impress; Alex Dunphy, our video stats wiz who provided so much fun and humor throughout the trip; and DeAnn Koehler, our athletic trainer, who did such a great job of warming us up and maintaining our health while overseas. There is no doubt in my mind that my experience would have been half as fun and fulfilling without our outstanding staff of six. If I could do it all again, I would – and believe me, I wish I could – but I am so content knowing I get to walk away with some lifelong friendships and an experience that has impacted me in more ways than one. Thailand, you were good to me, and thank you to USA Volleyball and BIP for giving me this life-changing opportunity!
-Guest Post by Lily Johnson, outside hitter from Missouri State