Howdy Friends,
     Today it was a bit rainy in Milan, but nonetheless, a wonderful day! I started my morning with a trip to my university: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart). My classes don’t start till the middle of next month, but I wanted to be familiar with the metro route, and the school itself. Below are some pictures of the campus and the surrounding area. Cattolica is quite huge compared to Belmont Abbey. In the center of Cattolica, there are two open courtyards, and the classrooms surround these courtyards in a rectangular shape. As you can see, it’s a beautiful campus, and I am all the more excited to start classes here! Attending such a large school (30,000 people) has me a bit nervous, but I am sure I will adjust.
     When I left the school, I did some walking, just to see a bit more of Milan and take photos. The architecture here is truly stunning; there is nothing that compares in the states. The arc below, which you might have mistaken as the Arc de Triomphe (Arc of Triumph), is actually Arco della Pace (Arc of Peace). Interestingly enough, the arc was built during Napoleon’s reign over Italy, in 1807. This explains its similarity to the one in Paris, and why it faces directly towards the French city.
     The most exciting part of my day (and the real reason I’m writing this post), was my try-out at ProPatria Volley. Vanni, the head coach scheduled for me to come at 6:00; however, I got lost on the way there and didn’t arrive till about 6:30. Vanni speaks little english, and no Spanish, so our meeting was mostly silence mixed with some basic hand gestures. He showed me to the locker rooms, and courts, and introduced me to the U15 team practicing. I joined their practice for the last thirty minutes and all I can say is – Wow! These girls are incredibly talented. The U15 coach spoke fluent Spanish, so I had no trouble doing drills and following along. The girls were super friendly, and really made an effort to speak to me in english. Although I’d prefer they speak Italian, I appreciate them trying to make me feel at ease. They would be a fun group to play with, but considering they are all 13-14 years old, I’m a little old for them.
     I am happy with the way I played, and even happier with my fitness level. I worked hard this summer to get in good shape and it’s definitely paying off! The coaches at ProPatria invited me to stay and practice with the older girls, and of course, I accepted. I knew things were getting serious when we got into the first drill. Everyone partnered up, and G.G, their coach, paired me with a girl who knew enough English to explain the drills. Julia, my partner, and I each had a ball, and we stood about ten feet apart. As I set the ball to her, she had to pass me her ball on the ground, like a soccer ball. It was a continuous drill, so we had to set, then kick, set, then kick for at least 15 seconds. I am ok at soccer (or calcio as the Italians say), but the coordination and attention this drill required was almost beyond me. It may not sound difficult, but Julia and I struggled to keep ourselves going for more than ten seconds.
     After this warm up, and some passing, we moved on to conditioning. It made me laugh to hear the girls complain about the workout – it doesn’t matter where you go, some things just never change! We did a thirty minute circuit working on arms, legs, abs, and pretty much everything else. Our next drill focused on hitting form. It was another thirty minute circuit with various drills to improve form, and strengthen the arms. For the last hour of practice, we did a two versus two scrimmage, and lastly a regular six versus six scrimmage. Francesca was my partner in the two v. two scrimmage. I was a bit confused at first, because when the other girls received the ball, one partner bumped the ball to herself, set her partner, and the partner would finish with a hit. If you don’t know the rules of volley, a player cannot hit the ball twice in a row, but apparently there was some point to this technique in the scheme of the drill. Although we lost both games, I had a lot of fun playing with Francesca. Our punishment was four, one-minute planks, so we might be losers, but we’re losers with great abs.
     The six on six game at the end was by far my favorite. I felt nervous going in to practice with them, thinking they were lightyears above my level, but I held my own, and again, I’m happy with the way I played. Normally I set, but G.G had me doing more passing and blocking, which was good for me to work on. The great thing about playing with europeans is that I’m usually one of the tallest on the court, and considered a good blocker (the same can’t be said in America) Our team lost, and as punishment, we took ten laps around the gym.
     Having played volleyball in Spain, I can say that for me, playing sports is the best way I know to make friends and put myself out there. Despite language barriers, I felt so welcome at ProPatria, and I was reminded of why I love this game so much! Everyone was so friendly, and so encouraging, I really felt like it was a great fit. After a third shoulder dislocation this summer, I considered putting volleyball to rest, but needless to say, I am so glad I didn’t! This is an amazing opportunity, and memories like these just can’t be made elsewhere. As I explained in a previous post, I did not think I would be able to play at ProPatria, as there are some complications with citizenship and my age. At the beginning of practice I was at the understanding that the coaches would watch me, and then recommend me to a different team. But, at the end of practice G.G asked for my number, and said he would text me the practice times. I asked if I would be able to play with the older girls and he said it might be possible, and he would let me know (with my babyface I can certainly pass as an 18 year old, but maybe not a true Italian). Of course, I will keep you all updated on my status with the team.
     This is a bit embarrassing, but I feel like I should share. Sorry Dr. Rovati, but my first Italian meal out on the town was… McDonalds. In my defense though, after four hours of intense volleyball, sometimes you just need a Big Mac and a large fry!