June 17, 2013 - by
Bloggin’ with Burrington: Thankful for the Experience


June 17, 2013

Sarah Burrington and the USA Volleyball Women’s Junior National Team begin their quest for first-place in the 20-team FIVB U-20 World Championship on Friday, June 21 at 11:15 a.m. ET (5:15 p.m. local time) against Bulgaria

DAY 1 (JUNE 16)

So here is a recap of my “day” yesterday, travel day! We rode from the OTC on a nice bus to Montreal for three hours after going through customs at the Canadian border. Then our 6 hour 45 minute plane ride was okay. Very good meals and movies but I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep at all. We arrived in Munich, Germany at 4 a.m. (but it was daylight since it was 10 a.m. there). And then our 45 minute flight to Vienna, Austria was, well, short. And we took another bus for two hours to Brno, Czech Republic and checked into our lovely hotel. We are moving hotels after two more nights.

We then had a four-course lunch (the main meal here) which was amazing! Then we finally slept until dinner and then took a 1.5 hour walk up to this beautiful “castle” that overlooked the entire city. We picked up water at the beginning of the walk and carried it the entire time- first workout in Brno! Along the way, we toured a lot of the main streets. There are lots of churches, statues, and unpronounceable words! I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to pronounce everything!.

Each team has a translator to ease the language barrier. Ours is “Robin” and he is a very personable guy who is very enjoyable to be around. Robin is helping with our learning of the language and also leading us on our city tour.

That’s all for now. I”ll send a little recap everyday- so I’ll send one again for today as my day two experience.

Hope all is well in America!

-Sarah Jane


DAY 2 (JUNE 17)

Ahoy (hello in Czech)!

Good news… I think that I am already used to the change in time zone. It’s 10 p.m. here and only 4 p.m. at home but I’m ready for a night’s rest anyway.

This morning we had a delightful breakfast buffet. They really do love meat and cheese here because that was a main dish for breakfast. I also noticed this petite apple pastry that was delicious. We then rode to practice that was in the gym we will be competing in for pool play come competition time. Apparently bumper to bumper traffic is the norm here! In the convention center, we found a perfectly sized arena for the sport of volleyball. We worked on some rotations and then headed back to the hotel for lunch. A light soup, rye bread, pork and mashed potatoes, and a lemon tart was served – yum.

After a much-needed afternoon nap, the team met to watch some videos of the other countries’ playing styles: Bulgaria, Brazil, Russia, Mexico. I also watch an online tutorial for how to tape my ankle and took notes. Practice does not make perfect. Our main course for dinner was chicken – cooked to Czech perfection!

The cuisine is tasty, the people are welcoming, and the view from my room of hills and busy streets is gorgeous… I might just live here.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 3 (JUNE 18)

The team had a short serve and serve-receive practice this morning. We fixed a few things and worked on consistency. This was in preparation for our scrimmage against Peru in the afternoon. We met them at their home arena so we had a new court but we adjusted easily.

It was a great opportunity for us to let go of the jitters, see how we match up against an international team, and execute the art of adjusting to your opponent’s game. For Peru, specifically, we made some changes in our blocking positions and our defense aligned to compliment them.

Our team captured straight wins for a solid 4-0 match. The middle of each set was fairly close but we pulled ahead toward the end for scores of 25-19, 25-23, 25-20, and 25-18. This seems to be promising but we all know that there must be a continuation of improvement if we want to have hopes of advancing in the tournament.

What wins the dish of the day? The soup served for lunch was a mouthwatering, tomato based noodle soup. It was more delicate than thick American tomato soup, yet it still had a more distinct taste. The two-inch spaghetti noodles were a surprise when we dipped our spoons to the bottom where they were hiding.

Tomorrow we are taking over the city shops with our crisp and eager euros…

-Sarah Jane


DAY 4 (JUNE 19)

Team USA had a busy day in Brno, Czech Republic! This morning was the big hotel switch that I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes from where we were staying before but now we are closer to the venue that we will be competing in. Our hotel room keys are attached to pretty metal pawn pieces from a chess game. I am not sure if it is a Czech tradition or just a distinct feature of this hotel…

We bought tickets for a tram ride into town today. Loads of people jumped on and off at each stop; apparently it is a main form of transportation here – definitely provides a much better view than subways can! We were already sweating by the time we hopped off but our guide, Robin, led us straight to a refreshing looking gelato stand to cool off. So many different choices! I tried a scoop of the cookie flavor.

There were a few churches that we peeked into and they didn’t disappoint: intricate carvings on the walls in between statues, angelic paintings on the ceilings, and a colossal pipe organ. You could easily spend hours and hours admiring all of it. I now have a fierce desire to visit the Vatican some day.

We found the building where Mozart played his first recital. In front of it was a fresh fruit and vegetable market that we scavenged through. Robin said that they call it the “green market square” but our team decided to rename it “the Mozart square”. Obviously, the Czechs agreed to start calling it by its new official title…

Clothing stores, jewelry boutiques, soccer shops: you name it – we visited it. I have already purchased and written out my postcards so be on the look out! I think that our team eventually mastered the exchange rate by the end of the day.

Now that the other international teams are scheduled to arrive by tonight, the dining room should be an interesting place to be in the morning. Can you say hello in Arabic, Nigerian, Italian, Turkish, and Portuguese?…. No, I can’t either.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 5 (JUNE 20)

After another serve and serve receive practice, we watched more video on some of the teams we will be playing in our pool. We have a statistician with us, Nate, who does a fantastic job with scouting. Charts of hitting preferences and percentages for every player, frame-by-frame clips of attacks that each player makes when they hit, and other magical things that Nate compiles help our team to familiarize ourselves with our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses before we even see them on the other side of the net. It is really neat stuff!

In the afternoon, we scrimmaged Nigeria. These girls were extremely friendly and beautiful! Even though we won three straight sets, they wanted to take a picture with us and were all smiles. Our teams squeezed into the bus back together and we had the pleasure of chatting with a few of them – their English is fairly good.

Besides the best chicken noodle soup on earth, I think we all enjoyed the fresh and sliced fruit served after dinner: pineapple, bananas, watermelon, mandarin oranges, apples. The banana had coconut on the end and the two worked really well together – try it!

Since our hotel has little to no air conditioning, we have been creating wind tunnels through the hallways between rooms. The windows are huge and the weather is always breezy so we have been extremely successful. No one thinks it’s weird that we hang out in the hallway a lot because our team and staff take up the entire floor here.

The tournament starts tomorrow. It is finally here! We have been training together since the fifth of June. Everyone is more than eager to play our first match which is against Bulgaria at 5:00 p.m. local time. We are prepared. We are driven. We are ready. Please wish us the best of luck!

-Sarah Jane


DAY 6 (JUNE 21)

Yesterday morning we watched video again and prepared more for our match against Bulgaria. During practice, we focused on specific defenses for different rotations. We had a fun surprise when we first arrived… a shopping cart was holding our volleyballs. Crafty and effective!

My roommate, Nicole, and I smelled heaven in the dining room when we showed up for lunch. She was guessing what this main meal was. But I thought it smelled like some kind of pie, like my dad’s famous apple pie. Forgetting about the mystery, we enjoyed our meal- baked chicken and sliced potatoes. And then dessert came out… and I saw apple turnovers. Called it! Each was baked to a perfectly doughy consistency and had cinnamon sugar to compliment the apples.

Charlene, the assistant coach, had our team pair up and give “interviews” to each other like we had just won the Bulgarian match. I thought this was a good exercise. It helped us focus on what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it.

When we arrived at the convention center all dressed in our red, white, and blue uniforms, we put our bags in our very own locker room and headed to a secluded, smaller area to warm up. Bulgaria was on the court next to us and the tension between teams was noticeable. When Nigeria finished playing Egypt, we walked into the main arena with our flag and national anthem! There were so many people around the court in official outfits, almost 50 – all there to help this match run smoothly. We were so eager to finally start playing the games that mattered. The referee blew the first whistle. It was a long time coming.

Our scouting was spot-on. Bulgaria’s players did just what we expected! But the execution of our counteracting defense crumbled under the pressure. We had half as many swings as them since we were out-of-system a lot. Some communication issues and quite a few unforced errors added to Bulgaria’s confidence. We lost.

Our team watched the match afterwards on film and we discussed everything that went wrong and how we can fix it by tomorrow. Losing is never the desired outcome but, at the same time, you can always learn from it. And we have. If there’s any silver lining though, it is that the loss of a match in the first round is tons better than a loss in the final rounds. We still have four other teams to play before anyone moves on in this tournament. And we will be one of them. Look out, Brazil, we are coming for you!

-Sarah Jane


DAY 7 (JUNE 22)

This morning after practice, some Czech players asked to take pictures with us. They were extremely sweet and wished us luck by saying “we are holding our fingers and feet for you!” Apparently, this is the Czech interpretation of our “crossing my fingers” expression! Absolutely adorable – loved them. 🙂

We were served crepes with chopped fruit for the filling at lunch time. The crepes were thicker than the ones in America; we almost thought they were pancakes.

We arrived early to the arena before our match so we watched Turkey play Italy. It was a nail-biter going to five sets. Turkey took the lead early on and swept away the Italians to take the match. After that thriller, our team was pumped to prove ourselves against Brazil. We played much better than yesterday but not nearly up to the potential that we have. Thus, our scores improved from set to set and from yesterday but we still did not pull out the big “W”. Tomorrow on our day off from matches we can rest mentally and physically in the hopes of being fresh and ready for a win against Mexico. Please hold your fingers and feet for us! 🙂

After the match, we spent some time with the parents that traveled with us. Although my parents didn’t make it out, I was adopted by my great friend, Jordan Burgess, and her family. Her parents and twin brother are like a second family to me as we were best friends from our club volleyball team in high school. My mother actually sent my camera and a letter to me by way of the Burgess family (thanks again Mom!).

I am going to sleep tonight with this quote in my head … “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached (are not being reached), don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” -Confucius

-Sarah Jane


DAY 8 (JUNE 23)

Our team had a day off from matches so we only watched film and practiced this morning. We worked mostly on blocking. With these international teams hitting extremely hard cross court, it is important for us blockers to position our hands in specific places that limit the hitter’s options and thus funnels the ball to our defenders to dig up. We also spent time on serve-receive. These countries we are playing have tough serves that can force us to be “out-of-system” so it is also imperative for us to prepare for them. These are a few things that will help us beat Mexico tomorrow!

We enjoyed a trip to the grocery store this afternoon. It was only a ten minute walk and it was a gorgeous view … Some of the hills peeked out from behind the blue and red colored buildings that are scattered at various elevations throughout Brno. There was also a light breeze to accompany the blazing sun. When we arrived to the store, I think our team gathered most of the fruit that was displayed and wiped clean the Nutella shelf. It is safe to say that our wallets had a nice exercise. We thought it was about time for them to start working hard, too.

Later, Robin wanted to make some American pancakes. He proudly stated, “I am great cook.” So four of us went with him to the store again and purchased the supplies for what we now call “Robincakes.” In the checkout line, he pretended to be an American … mission not completed. Back at the hotel, the whole team gathered in one common room only to realize that we didn’t have measuring cups. So we improvised and made some fantastic tasting Robincakes – I’ll bring back the recipe with me!

At dinner after our individual film sessions, we looked up the final results for the day. Bulgaria has lost twice and no team in our pool has been undefeated besides Brazil at 2 wins and 0 losses. This means that there is still a lot of room for us to move on but we must “do work” on Mexico come morning. Russia defeated them in four sets today so we are also planning on a big sweep to put us in the running … We must win. And we WELCOME THE GRIND.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 9 (JUNE 24)

Sleeping in until 9 a.m. was just what our team needed! Besides collapsing on the floor after breaking my chair (which was falling apart *before* I sat on it), we were physically healthy and alert from the night’s long rest. This match against Mexico was the most important match yet, and we all knew it.

The usual pre-match rituals ensued: light snack, bus to arena, locker room pep talk, warm up, national anthem, etc. We opened up the first set with 20 ties and 7 lead changes with Mexico! That’s quite an exciting game of volleyball as we only play to 25 points. That final score of that set was 29-27. Pushing for points when the other team has the game point advantage is tough stuff, but we pulled pulled out a win despite the challenge. We lost some momentum in the second set, ending 19-25 but we collected ourselves before the third and refocused on our goal … We won that set 27-25 and finished the match at 25-22, claiming victory! Feel free to chant “go USA!” as many times as you want.

Debriefing after the match, the best play of the match award was given to Amber. It was game point of set three when she stuff blocked Mexico’s outside hitter straight to the ground. The ball bounced inside the court line before the hitter and our two blockers even landed on the floor. Now that’s a rock solid block … A photographer wanted a picture of some of my teammates’ nails – decked out in red, white, and blue nail polish of course. I guess our patriotism was a good luck charm for us!

As far as standings go, tomorrow’s match will make us or break us. If we beat Russia, we will advance. If we lose, we will not. So I propose that you all paint your nails tonight to help us out. What do you say? 😉

After watching Russia lose to Brazil this afternoon, we had a much anticipated dinner-with-the-parents trip. Robin picked out the PERFECT place for us all to share a Czech meal – in a tower restaurant overlooking the city! Since we were 15 floors up, the enormous windows allowed us to see a 300 degree areal view of all of Brno. It was absolutely breath taking. For dinner, we had duck, beets, and potato dumplings. It was so great to celebrate our first win with family, food, and a magnificent view.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 10 (JUNE 25)

There’s not much to say today. We lost our match against Russia. The parents were loyal fans though, still blowing their homemade noisemakers and chanting “USA” even after the last point. We also had some of the Czech court sweepers from our match yesterday that came back to cheer us on in the crowd. They wanted pictures with us and gave every one of us a hug after the match.

Our coach wanted us to play with “aggressive composure” but our aggressiveness wasn’t all it could have been. An extremely disappointing loss, it was. But whatever the results, we are here to represent USA volleyball and we will continue to do so proudly in our next few matches coming up.

Here’s to a new pool of opponents and the opportunity to fight until the very end.

Based on tiebreakers, the U.S. finishes fifth in the five-team pool and will now compete in the 17-20 classification bracket composed of the four fifth-place teams. Team USA will face Thailand (Pool B) on June 28, followed by Pool D’s fifth-place finisher on June 29 and Puerto Rico (Pool A) on June 30.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 11 (JUNE 26)

We had a morning yoga session with one of our assistant coaches in the hallway of our floor . Even some of the males on the trip joined in! Then Robin led us in his “cardio” workout. All of this took place while listening to some epic jams, of course. And no, the maids didn’t laugh when they found us…

The coaches surprised us with a trip to go laser tagging. After finding our way to the arena in the rain, we split into teams and began planning our elaborate strategies. The most competitive laser war in all of Brno history broke out in there. If yoga and cardio wasn’t enough exercise, this game topped it all. I must say, it did give us the opportunity to practice team work and intensity for the day. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I had the highest “hit percentage” of the entire war at 20 percent. Not too shabby, maybe I should consider laser tag as a career option…

We had another pancake party. This time, we added in scrambled eggs and sauteed apples with cinnamon to our feast. Robin promised that he would make this “American meal” for his mother sometime soon.

Tomorrow, we are traveling to a city that starts with a “P”. It’s the largest city in the Czech Republic… Can you guess it?

Based on tiebreakers, the U.S. finishes fifth in the five-team pool and will now compete in the 17-20 classification bracket composed of the four fifth-place teams. Team USA will face Thailand (Pool B) on June 28, followed by Pool D’s fifth-place finisher on June 29 and Puerto Rico (Pool A) on June 30.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 12 (JUNE 27)

“P” is for Prague! It was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. There were stone roads, cafes at every corner, and colorful buildings with intricate doors, windows, and rooftop pinnacles. Most of the roads were not straight and definitely were not laid out on a grid-like pattern so I lost my sense of direction a few times, but that’s why the view on every road was so spectacular! I could see not only the buildings surrounding me and the ones peaking out at odd angles behind them, but also a clock tower or church spire on top of the whole scene. They seemed to be looking down at me and over the rest of the city square.

We walked up to this castle fort on a hill that overlooked all of Prague and visited the church there. The sun shined through the stained glass windows as if they were magnifying glasses, amplifying the vivid colors to even the deepest corners of the church.

We spent some time on the Charles Bridge which crosses the Vltava River that runs through the middle of the city. There were paintings for sale, caricature artists, jewelry stands, and statues to rub for “good luck”. But none of these things could distract me from the view of the rushing river beneath me and the hills and structures that bordered it. I did not fight the urge to stop and stare in awe with a dropped jaw!

The gelato stands eventually found our team, tired and vulnerable, and took advantage. But I, instead, tried a “trdelník” which is this sweet pastry made from dough wrapped around a wooden stick for cooking, topped with a sugar and walnut mix. I remembered hearing about them on the travel channel so I had to try one!

-Sarah Jane


DAY 13 (JUNE 28)

We played against Thailand today. They were definitely shorter than us… but they ran a very quick offense and were extremely scrappy. So we blocked low over the net to defend the quick attacks and kept hitting aggressively. With a couple of smart plays and that oh-so-contagious USA pride, we pulled another victory!

We celebrated while enjoying our delicious lunch – a potato and broccoli quiche. This afternoon we took a trip back to the arena to watch China and Russia in the nail biting semi-finals. China came out on top with their ball control and wicked serves.

Tomorrow we play Nigeria at 10. That’s 4 am in Florida… You don’t need to wake up to cheer us on. We have it covered. 🙂


DAY 14 (JUNE 29)

Same story, different day. We won again, beating Nigeria in straight sets. Given their level of play, we had an opportunity to challenge our own selves. We worked on limiting our errors and “dominating” the net.

After several hours of napping, we watched China play Brazil and also Japan play Italy. It is so great to see different countries’ style of play. There is much to learn from them: aggressive but consistent serving, effectively pursuing every ball, hitting extremely sharp cross court, swinging hard on out-of-system plays with confidence.

Our last match is tomorrow (June 30). The team is only focused on coming out strong for one more win – packing for the trip home is an afterthought.

-Sarah Jane


DAY 15 (JUNE 30)

Playing during our last match today wasn’t as emotional as expected. We didn’t play like it was our last, we just played like we wanted to win. And we did, in straight sets. Everything came together. We had “flow” and we were aggressive on our slide. So our final record, including scrimmages, is 6 wins and 3 losses. It’s a shame that all of our losses were in pool play because we weren’t able to compete for a higher ranking the rest of the week. But the other teams won fair and square and we respect that. Now we just have things to learn from and a hunger for a higher ranking in the following years.

It’s the final count down. We leave at 5 in the morning, so we packed this afternoon. (Mom, you might want to buy extra detergent today because my laundry load is the size of Mt. Everest.) We will drive to Vienna, fly directly to JFK, and then I will say my goodbyes before my connecting flight home. Please wish me luck as my layover is only an hour and I know that customs isn’t the fastest line in the airport.

After an early dinner, we watched the final matches. Brazil finished in third place, Japan finished in second place, and China won the title. They deserved it – China didn’t lose a set the entire tournament. Can you imagine how strong their mentality must be? The closing ceremonies were special. There were podiums, red carpets, medals, trophies, roses, the raising of flags, and a light show – the whole shebang. The hotel tonight is crazy. Teams are trading shirts and chanting their country’s name from floor to floor. Hopefully we can catch a nap before 5 a.m.

I am so thankful to have played for this USA team. What an opportunity it was to compete internationally, represent the United States, and visit the beautiful country of Czech Republic. Thank you for reading along these past two weeks, your support is appreciated! Go ‘Noles! Now all I want when I get back to Florida is a big juicy American burger!

-Sarah Jane

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