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Euro trip a rare opportunity for volleyball

Team will make stops in Italy, Czech Republic, Austria over 10 days

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Before even starting its regular season, Marquette volleyball will face some of the toughest competition it will ever encounter, approximately 5,000 miles from home.

The team is going to Europe on a 10-day trip this summer. The Golden Eagles will depart May 31 for Italy, where they will visit Rome, Venice and Milan. After that, the team will travel to Prague, Czech Republic, and Innsbruck, Austria, before returning home June 9.

A European trip has been on head coach Ryan Theis’ radar for quite some time. Originally, the plan was to go last summer, but could not happen because Marquette only had five hitters on the team. Now Marquette has enough players to embark on a trip that Theis believes is necessary for his team to become self-sufficient.

“There is a maturity that has to grow in them in terms of being prepared to play on their own and getting in positions where they can be successful,” Theis said.

The Golden Eagles will play six matches over the course of the trip. It is not yet known which teams Marquette will be playing, mostly because the selection of teams is far wider in Europe than it is in America. The spectrum runs all the way from good recreation league teams to top of the line, professional national teams. There are hundreds of squads in between those extremes, which is why it takes time to determine which ones make a good match.

“We’re just trying to get our team to understand the level of volleyball and play at the highest level for as long and as consistently as possible,” Theis said.

One might think that Europe would be new territory for most American college students, but that is not the case for some of the Marquette volleyball players. Seniors Lauren Houg and Sara Blasier have been to some of the locations on this trip with their club teams prior to Marquette. According to Blasier, there is a big difference between American and European style volleyball.

“There’s different rules over there; they can’t sub as much,” Blasier explained. “We have (defensive specialists) that go in the back row for our hitters, but they don’t have that. You have to be overall better at all your skills in the game.”

Theis says he will build in some days off from game action. That downtime is not just for managing jet lag, though. Theis says he intentionally kept players’ schedules less regimented than normal in order to give them the freedom to explore. The more open-ended schedule is also meant to test his team’s preparedness.

“When we go on a road trip at Marquette, it’s in a nice hotel with catered meals and downtime before the games,” Theis said. “One of the neat parts about this is you might get 10 dollars or 20 dollars per diem at noon and we’ve got a 7 o’clock game. We give them some time to do adventure and sightseeing stuff and we’re meeting at 5:30. It’s not a serve and pass and a catered meal. It’s show up, lace them up, get yourself warmed up and let’s go out and compete against professionals.”

In that sense, this trip is both business and pleasure. Of course, sightseeing and cultural enrichment will be part of the agenda. But there is volleyball to be played, and against some of the top competition available to players at the collegiate level. It will be a growing experience for the team: an opportunity for them to prepare for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in program history.

“I want to see our upside go higher and I want to see our downside go higher,” Theis said. “I want us to be better, for longer, more often, more consistent and just getting better by these six matches.”

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