Volleyballers show off skills on international stage

By Mike Romor

Summer break gives students the opportunity to get away from school to work, play and travel. For volleyball players Alexis Gonzalez and Lauren Zielinski, summer was the perfect time to do all three.

Gonzalez and Zielinski were given the opportunity to play in the ninth annual European Global Challenge.

The event, hosted by Bring It Promotions (BIP), is held in Pula, Croatia, and features players from the United States and Europe. The team Gonzalez and Zielinski played on, BIP 20, had two Slovenian players and three Croatians along with players from across the United States.

“I knew that [coach Ray Gooden] gives players the option every year to go to Europe and I was kind of hoping this summer that I would get that opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “Without a doubt, I wanted to go and it was a great experience.”

Sophomore Gonzalez and redshirt freshman Zielinski helped their team finish sixth overall, second among American squads.

For Zielinski, a middle blocker who was injured for part of last season, the event was a great opportunity to play against strong competition and get comfortable with her setter.

“It was good experience to be able to play again after not being able to last year,” Zielinski said. “Having [Gonzalez] there was awesome for connecting with her. We are always practicing together and are still getting used to each other, but we are pretty good with our tendencies.”

Zielinski is expected to have an important role up front for the Huskies with the departure of middle blocker Mary Kurisch, who garnered first team All-MAC honors as a senior last season.

Gooden is pleased with what he’s seen from Zielinski, who has steadily improved since the end of last season. Because of her athleticism, Gooden believes she could be shuffled among any of the net positions.

“She has gotten a lot stronger,” Gooden said. “Her body has become a lot more controlled and she continues to keep getting faster and as she does that, her game continues to improve. She also has shown good flexibility like our other middles, so we could move her and the other girls to the sides as well.”

The European Global Challenge also put a lot into perspective for the two players. Not only was the style of play slightly different, but the rules were much different from what they were used to.

“It’s kind of cool to see how they train before a game and even the rules are a lot different in Europe,” Gonzalez said. “The ball is different and is like one you’d see in the Olympics. It’s a little lighter and floats more. You are only allowed six substitutions instead of 12, and kind of like the rules in most sports, you are only allowed one entry and that’s it.”

When not in the gym, Zielinski and Gonzalez got the chance to do a little bit of touring of Europe, including a full day in Venice, before coming home.

“The volleyball was great and the sightseeing was great,” Zielinski said. “I had never been to Europe and had only seen pictures of all the cities so it was awesome to be able to go there.”

Senior Sarah Angelos is the only other active NIU player to have participated in the event.