By Jonathan Pressley and Jose Diaz
FSW’s first volleyball program unites six countries into one team this semester under Coach Thais Baziquetto-Allen.
Fifteen players, from the USA, Brazil, Germany, France, Bulgaria and Egypt make up a 9-6 record at press time. After ending a five-game winning streak with two losses, they have bounced back with a win on Wednesday.
“We feel our chemistry isn’t better right now, it was better when we were winning. We were cheering more so the energy was keeping us going, but lately it doesn’t feel the same,” said Kellen Valentim. offensive hitter and right-side hitter from Brazil. “Individually, we are all really good payers, but as a team, we are not there yet.”
Boasting a team of 11 international freshmen has its drawbacks, but the off-court relationship the players share is growing fast.
“At first it was very hard, in the first week, I thought it would be very hard but the girls help me a lot to get used to playing,” said defensive specialist Viktoria Ivanova from Bulgaria.
Outside hitter Julia de Sa said, “It was very hard because we have a lot of international girls, like I’m from Brazil, so it’s very hard because [English] is not my first language. My team helps me a lot.”
“Having internationals in my dorm actually helped with my English because I have to fix some of their words,” said middle hitter Kianie Cummings from California. “Another reason why I love having international people is the food because my roommate [has] opened my eyes to a lot of new recipes.”
From the beginning of training camp, Coach Baziquetto insisted on running practices in English. De Sa credits the coach for helping her learn the language.
“[Coach] said to me that if you’re talking Portuguese here, you’re going to run,” said de Sa. “It’s okay because we are here to learn about the language.”
This is the first volleyball program in FSW history. With a roster full of diversity, an adjustment period was inevitable.
Adjusting to volleyball in America is a challenge in of itself, one that the players agree is a positive one.
“[In the U.S.] everyone is so focused on sport,” said outside hitter Anna Leweling. “In Germany, if you play sport, no one cares about it and here it’s a big thing. If you are a student athlete [they] appreciate it.”
De Sa echoed her German teammate.
“I think it’s very different because in Brazil we don’t have the structure, we don’t have the attention for study, or [attention] for volleyball. People come here to America [to play] because they have the attention for us, for everything, not just to play.”
One of the many reasons these players chose FSW was the opportunity for public exposure that some felt they did not get in their respective countries.
Another was the ability to play with Coach Baziquetto.
“I came here for the visibility, the structure, the coach that was new and the program was new so I feel like it was a really new beginning,” said setter Marina Alonso from Brazil, one of the only two sophomores on the team.
Brazilian defensive setter Giovanna Bello credited the coach as well.
“I came here because of the structure and because of the coach.”
Coach Baziquetto isn’t a regular coach; she was once an international player as well and brings that experience with her.
“I think it’s easier for them to relate to me because I set some parameters for them that might not happen anywhere else, but I know from experience, that would’ve helped me,” said the coach.
“Everything [here] is organized, from this hour to this hour, and we have time for everything; everything is calculated”, said Ivanova.
Right side hitter Amanda Mendes talked about her first day under Coach Baziquetto.
“In Brazil we don’t study about the games. Here, the first day, we [get] a book and we need to read a book about the sport.”
It’s clear that Coach Baziquetto not only wants talented players, but smart and fundamentally sound ones.
She knows from experience the game is different here than in their respective countries.
De Sa expressed the difference, saying “in America, the ball is more live and the game is faster. We have smart players here, not just power.”
The adjustment period lasted only the beginning of the season.
Right side hitter Hannah Pabon from Fort Myers explained the adjustment.
“Once we go through the stormy phase, that’s when were really bonded through the hard times and really start playing together.”
As the rainy season begins here in Florida, the FSW volleyball team looks to end theirs and is ready to win.
After losing their first two conference games against St. Petersburg and Hillsborough, they won against the State College of Florida, making them 9-6 at press time.