UI sends player to match in Prague

Illinois junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter spikes the ball over the Illinois alumni players at Huff Hall Saturday night. Illinois won in three sets over the alumni. Online Poster

Illinois junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter spikes the ball over the Illinois alumni players at Huff Hall Saturday night. Illinois won in three sets over the alumni. Online Poster

By Mike Czapar

The women’s U.S. Select Volleyball Team picks 13 collegiate athletes to participate in the Spring Cup in Prague, Czech Republic. Last summer two of the 13 players came from the University of Illinois women’s volleyball team.

Junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter and senior setter Erin Virtue both represented the United States overseas. Now back on campus, the two are ready to begin the 2004 NCAA volleyball season.

Head coach Don Hardin can already see improvements in his players’ performances upon their return from international play.

“I think the experience really helped Rachel’s maturity as a player,” Hardin said. “Since she has been back she is much more determined on the court, and more confident.”

While VanMeter’s improvement was more evident, Hardin said the enhancement of Virtue’s game could be seen in subtleties that are now more obvious than before.

“Erin has always been confident and comfortable as a leader, but I think the experience improved her ability to offer insight and help others,” Hardin said.

VanMeter felt the improvements came from the intensity of the teams they faced.

“There were some amazing players and some really good teams,” VanMeter said. “We played against a mix of college, club and aspiring professional players.”

VanMeter explained how playing with different teammates benefited her game in more ways than one.

“It really added versatility to my game to play apart from my team,” she said. “Not only was I hitting from different setters, but I was also playing on the right when I usually play on the left.”

Besides having different teammates, the ladies were also faced with opponents who spoke different languages. While many players from different countries understood English, no U.S. players spoke the various languages of other teams.

“They could understand what we were telling each other and what our coaches were yelling, but we had no idea what they were saying,” VanMeter said.

Along with various languages came different customs. VanMeter commented on the different beginnings of international volleyball games, which involved a very formal walk-on and various buzzers and whistles.

“International volleyball has a big routine where you start at the sideline and then there’s buzzers and you go different ways. The first few times we didn’t really know what to do,” VanMeter said.

Although the players valued their competition in the Czech Republic, they are glad to return to the United States.

“It was a really great experience, but I was glad to get back,” VanMeter said. “I really missed my team and the family environment.”