By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – The Cal volleyball team will enter the 2014 season with a head-start in the team chemistry department.
The Bears recently returned from a two-week tour of Europe, one in which they played matches against high-level club and national teams and were exposed to a variety of cultural experiences.
But perhaps most important, the Bears spent virtually every second together – and loved every second of it.
“When you’re put in confined space for 15 days, you either bond or you hate each other by the end,” Cal defensive specialist Sarah Cole said. “Luckily, we bonded.”
The NCAA permits teams to take a foreign tour once every four years. The experience Cal got playing against such opponents as the Chinese Junior National Team and Club Italia from Milan can only help them on the court in 2014.
But the time the team spent together without the pressure of school and a Pac-12 Conference race is perhaps the most invaluable benefit of such a trip.
“The biggest benefits really are you get two weeks or so on the road with your team and the cultural and bonding experiences are like nothing you can ever experience at home,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “We got along. We traveled for two weeks and didn’t have a disagreement or argument. Getting your team away from their comfort zone and their normal environment and making them survive with each other – I think that’s a big part of it.”
The Bears played six matches on the trip – three against professional club teams and three against junior national teams. Cal defeated VBC Cheseaux of Switzerland and Club Italia of Milan, Italy. The Bears also lost a match to Club Italia while also dropping contests against junior national teams from Slovenia, China and France.
Cal’s practice time was limited during the trip, as in most cases the Bears showed up to play a match after a day of sightseeing or team bonding. Cal also played its final two matches without starting libero Maddy Kerr, who was resting an sore shoulder.
“I have to say that the results were positive,” Feller said. “The competition was as good or better than I had hoped. We saw some things that we definitely need to work on, and I think there was some improvement.”
The Bears visited the following cities: Montreux, Switzerland; Milan, Italy; Bibione, Italy; Maribor, Slovenia and Zagreb, Croatia. Cal also made half-day side trips to Venice, Italy and Bled, Slovenia.
Off-court highlights of the trip included a ropes course-team bonding event in Maribor, a visit to breathtaking Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and sightseeing in Venice. Zagreb is the hometown of Cal junior Lara Vukasovic, who acted as a semi-tour guide during the team’s two-day visit to the city. Former Cal All-American Hana Cutura also hails from Zagreb and was able to spend time with the team.
“I think what benefitted the team the most was the team bonding that took place outside of the competition,” Cole said. “I think a lot of us got closer. I know I definitely learned more about every single person on the team, even the girls that I’m going to end up living with. It was fun to go through a foreign experience where you don’t really know what to expect with teammates.”