COLUMBIA - For Columbia College sophomore libero Tally Mattos, shifting to a different style of volleyball is something she can pick up rather quickly. Adjusting to a new country, learning a new language and adapting to American culture may take a little longer.
Mattos is a transfer student from Universidade Paulista, located in the city of Sao Paulo in southern Brazil. She is among six players on the Cougars' volleyball team born in Brazil, not including student assistant coach Juliana Quadrado, who played at Columbia College for two years. Quadrado translates for some of the Brazilian players, such as Mattos.
The Columbia College volleyball team defeated Harris-Stowe 25-20, 25-21, 25-16 Thursday night in St. Louis.
Luano Branco led the Cougars with 40 assists, and Flavia Lino led with 15 kills.
Columbia College plays next Saturday when they host the University of Texas at Brownville.
Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington says the reason for recruiting Brazilian players is simple.
"Did you watch the Olympics?" Washington asked. "I mean, Brazil-US in sand men's and women's, indoor men's and women's. Brazil is just really good."
Brazilian players usually learn about Columbia College by connections made with current or past players from nearby areas.
"We also have the English as a second language major here on campus, which is an intensive English program, which kinds of leads either into a four-year degree, or the international business major, which really attracts a lot of the international students," Washington said. "A lot of them want to be able to go back to their country when they graduate with their American degree."
For Mattos, having teammates speak her native language makes her feel comfortable in a foreign environment, but hearing Portuguese too much may have a downside.
"She says she thinks it's really helpful, but she thinks she might be better off, and would learn more English sometimes" if she didn't hear Portuguese as much, Quadrado said, translating for Mattos. "She listens to too much Portuguese around, when she would be picking up English words a bit more."
Quadrado knows this can be true from her own experience.
"I was the only foreign player on the team, spoke no English," Quadrado said. "I had no idea, it was really hard. My dictionary was my best friend, I would carry it everywhere."
Besides the language difference, Mattos notices another aspect of life different from Brazil.
"People in Brazil are really warm, so we hug everybody, we kiss on the cheek and everything," Quadrado said, translating for Mattos. "Here people are kind of cold. American space, like ‘Don't touch me.' Personal space."
Food is another change to which Mattos must adjust. She said the food in the United States is different from that in Brazil, but says she does enjoy pizza. Washington has noticed that getting food is something Mattos and the other Brazilian women sometimes struggle with.
"Subway is really the most difficult stop we can make right now," Washington said, "because you get to choose everything, like what type of bread, do you want tomatoes, lettuce, pickles? McDonald's is the best because it's just ‘A No. 2 with a Coke.' It's hard because they know what it says, like it says it right in front of you, but the pronunciation is off."
Although food and culture may differ, Mattos says that she still enjoys using the Internet just like at home. Using instant messaging and social networking sites, Mattos is able to communicate with her family and friends in Brazil.
The Internet isn't just used for socializing, though. Washington says that the foreign players she recruits usually know, or are familiar with, current players on her team from a similar area. She can get player statistics, profiles, resumes and even videos of prospects playing on the Internet. Before coming to Columbia, Mattos even chatted with Washington online about her aspiration to come to the United States.
"It's desire for an American education," Washington said. "They don't just want to come here to play volleyball. I mean, it's a pretty good deal to get an American education."
One reason that coming to the United States is particularly intriguing is the lack of support for student athletics in Brazil. According to Quadrado, in Brazil, there are far fewer college athletics and, for the most part, young volleyball players must choose between continuing their playing careers or going to college. There are rarely any scholarships offered for athletics, and there are no structured collegiate leagues like the NAIA or NCAA.
Mattos has enjoyed early success on the court for the Cougars, leading the team with 200 digs through Tuesday night (6.9 digs per game). Although she is playing well, she has noticed a difference in the style of play and training.
"Of course it's different, because the practices here are harder," Quadrado said, translating for Mattos. "She perceives American volleyball as more serve and pass based, rather than in Brazil, where it's more hitting and blocking based. It's more aggressive in Brazil."
An advantage that Mattos sees in NAIA volleyball is an opportunity to score from her position.
"One thing she really likes about playing volleyball here is she gets to serve," Quadrado said. "In Brazil, libero's can't serve, everything they do is just pass and dig. Here she thinks it's cool, because she has the opportunity to score, just like everybody else when you go to serve. She likes that, she really likes that."
Washington said she is impressed with how Mattos has played.
"I think she's fit in really well, she's very intelligent, I can tell that," Washington said. "She's really good, really skilled, she covers the court well, she talks and her defense is ridiculous. I'm really pleased with her."
Mattos and the Cougars next play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at home against the University of Texas at Brownsville.