COLUMBIA — Missouri sophomores Whitney Little and Katie O'Brien helped the USA Development Team win a bronze medal at the 8th Annual European Global Challenge in Croatia in July. Before arriving in Croatia, the team played the Italian and Chinese junior national teams in Italy.
This was the first overseas, international experience for both Little and O'Brien. During high school, the two played in Puerto Rico with their club volleyball team, but O'Brien admits the games were not as formal as those in Europe. Their former club coach and current Texas Christian University coach, Jason Tanaka, was also a coach on the USA team. He invited Little and O'Brien to join the team.
"I have always wanted to go to Europe and Italy was just perfect," Little said. "I thought it’d be a great learning experience to see if maybe one day I want to play overseas."
The team had only one real practice before it began playing matches. With a team made up of high school seniors, and college freshmen and sophomores who had never played together, adjustments needed to be made in a short period of time.
"We realized the other teams we were playing were really good, so we had to quickly get over that and just start playing together as best we could," O'Brien said.
The team won five of its seven matches, playing teams from Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro and Russia. Although O'Brien was happy to make new friends from schools such as The University of Arizona and Seattle University, she was happy to have Little's company.
"You’re going overseas with nobody you know," she said. "There’s absolutely nothing comfortable about that, so having someone there that you do know definitely helps. It’s like a little piece of home."
Little also enjoyed having O'Brien with her.
"It’s nice to go somewhere and be able to share the experience with someone, and someone who I see everyday."
Being exposed to international competition introduced Little and O'Brien to a variety of styles of volleyball.
"You can look at different aspects of other countries’ games, and I think that I really tried to pay attention to that," Little said. "I can try thinking the Chinese middles did this, so maybe I can do this, too."
O'Brien appreciates learning from exposure and experience.
"I just think that the more I play and see the different styles of volleyball, like the higher levels, and the more experience I get in general, will help me as an all-around player," she said.
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow sees the benefits of international experience. Junior Lisa Henning played in China before the 2011 season.
"I think it helps develop a sense of confidence in what you can do, and that’s so key to being able to perform," Kreklow said. "I’m hoping with Whit and Katie you kinda see the same jump, the same bounce in their game that Lisa got from a year ago."
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