This was our last day with out fantastic bus driver Niki! He was fabulous! He could make turns and get us around these small towns and in and out of the narrow streets like there was nothing to it; as if he was behind the wheel of something as small as the new “SMART CAR”. 

You see, even though I could barely understand his thick Romanian accent half the time, I was able to get some information about his past. He used to be a European version of a NASCAR driver back in his younger years. He then resigned and became a tour bus driver! Quite the lifestyle change.

He was hands down, the best bus driver I have ever come across, and with playing D-I ball, I have had my fair share of exposure.

We checked into our hotel that morning and drove to the gym for our early afternoon games. We played at the same time as the men’s basketball team. The women’s basketball team did not play until later, and also played at a different location. 

The match-up was fairly even and the level of play was intense! This team of Italian women was very good. They had middles that ran quicks and most of their players could play all the way around and hold their own. Unlike our team of athletic misfits, that just so happened to get along really well which made playing as a team easier! ;-)

We beat the Italians, barely. I failed to mention earlier in my blogs, but a girl on our USA team had been injured earlier in the trip and up until this point in the trip, she would only play a game here and there in every location. 

Today, her sprained ankle felt much better so she played in the entire match.  We needed her; she’s our Libero and a key part to our success. I must say, there were only few downsides to the trip, but not having a trainer at any of our games was probably the biggest inconvenience and concern of mine. Unlike in America, the teams do not have trainers, ice buckets, water bottles, athletic tape and gear ready to go at their disposal courtside. They rely on their coaches and the hospital/clinic physicians if something  goes wrong. 

After the match we quick grabbed some pizza at the local pizzeria and then off to the women’s game we went. Now, our team was not the only one to suffer an injury. In fact, we had the least injuries. Men’s basketball had two and the women’s basketball had four! Not all of the injuries happened on the trip, several were old injuries flaring up.

Due to their low numbers they only had enough players to play and have one sub.  An upside to the European splash tour, was that the European coaches were just so thrilled that we were here to play at all, that they allowed us to bend certain rules. For instance in volleyball, over there they only allow you so many subs, I forget the exact number but no more than 12; which is not enough for how our team was built and length and duration of our play. 

So every match, our USA coach would go up to the opposing sides head coach and ask if we could have unlimited subs, we were never refused.  So in basketball, the European coaches allowed for some of the volleyball players to sub onto the basketball team to help fill the bench and give the remaining basketball girls enough time to rest and hydrate. 

This was vital, because in America, most of our gyms are air-conditioned, that was a rare commodity in Europe. What was funny about this scenario, is that the women’s basketball team had talent, just not the follow through and so they lost almost all of their games up until this point.  

Well, the volleyball players borrowed the men’s teams jerseys and went out their and were ROCK STARS!! We couldn’t stop yelling and screaming and taking pictures because who would have thought they these girls would not only be playing volleyball but basketball as well on this trip. Note: they asked me to play but I informed them, I may look the part but, I am not a basketball player, too much running.  I joked with them and said “Thank You, but there is a reason why I play volleyball, I prefer just transitioning” ;-) thanks!”

Needless to say, they saved the day. All four of my teammates got to play, and held nothing back, it was amazing.  Hilarious but amazing!  So thanks to a collaboration of teams, the USA women’s basketball team won. 

After we went to a very nice Italian restaurant where they spoke very very very little of English. During dinner we all reminisced about the game and how great it was and surprised everyone was that the volleyball players could actually play. This stereotypical notion is a fairly common assumption that we volleyball players take pride in disproving. 

Once dinner was over we all said our goodbyes to Niki, he was headed back home for a quick weeklong break from driving until his next booking! So pictures were taken, hugs and thanks yous were exchanged and that was last we ever saw of him. 

The rest of the night was a relaxing one. We hung out at the hotel lobby played cards, chit chatted about one another and what we all liked and disliked the most about the trip and of course were trying to hide our excitement for our trip to VENICE in the morning!

Mackenzie Angner