They come from Germany, Norway, Japan, Hawaii and California.
With players from seven states and four countries, coach Bakeer Ganes’ roster and coaching staff has meshed despite the cultural differences. The Owls are in the No. 5 slot in the conference standings, trailing Louisville, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and South Florida. Louisville is running away with the conference, as the Cardinals have a 12-0 record.
“I think the advantages are clearly bigger than the disadvantages,” Ganes said. “It’s a unique situation where we have different people from different areas coming together who don’t even know each other working towards one goal, so that’s pretty neat. You get to meet some people that you never thought you would meet, get to experience their viewpoint … I think that makes us a better person, and also helps us with our game as a volleyball player.”
Sophomore and Norway native Alicia Wennberg, who said she’s had difficulties finding healthy eating options in a fast-food filled America, finds the cultural diversity of the team as an important asset. Wennberg joins sophomore Sandra Sydlik, from Berlin, as the two international student-athletes on the team.
“We’re all from different places, so we have different ways of playing,” Wennberg said. “I can bring something from Norway and Sandra can bring something from Germany, and we have coaches from Japan and Germany, so it’s a lot of different ways to play that maybe other teams don’t have.”
Akiko Hatakeyama, the aforementioned assistant coach from Japan, was surrounded by volleyball in her home country.
“Volleyball is big [in Japan],” Hatakeyama said. “For women, it’s the most popular sport. When we hosted the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, we won the gold medal.”
Sydlik, who has found a big difference in musical culture – she prefers electro and house music to hip-hop and R&B – said she doesn’t think she can compare the sport between Germany and the United States.
“Just how it’s set up, it’s so different,” Sydlik said. “But volleyball is not that big in Germany. We have soccer first, and then basketball, ice hockey and then volleyball.”
“The game is a little bit slower [in Europe], the players are way better skilled overall,” Ganes said. “We have more overall well-rounded players in Europe as compared to the States.”
“I feel like it’s all about technique,” Sydlik said. “[Ganes and I] say that a lot of American players have bad technique. But it’s not all bad, because they are winning in the Olympic games most of the time and Germany is not.”
Even though sophomore Alyssa Drachslin’s hometown is in California, she said there are still many differences in the game.
“I’d say a lot of it has to do with geographically, how everything’s so much closer [over here],” Drachslin said. “It’s definitely something that attracted me, like a two hour bus ride to New York or D.C., it’s definitely not like that [in California]. To get out of state, you have to drive two or three hours, so that’s different. Also, it’s a little more hustle and bustle over here, versus back home.”
Even with cultural differences, team chemistry doesn’t suffer, Drachslin said.
“It might sound kind of weird, but I think being from different areas has helped us bond even more because we are each other’s family here,” Drachslin said. “And I know a few girls from Pennsylvania, and that definitely helps because their parents kind of ‘adopted’ us all.”
Senior Gabriella Matautia, from Hawaii, has evolved into a leader during the past four seasons with the Owls. She said she uses that role to bring everyone together.
“I think it’s just holding people accountable,” Matautia said. “Not only do I want people to find me as a leader, but I want other upperclassmen taking leadership roles. So as long as we stay on each other, we’ll be able to trust each other and perform at where we should be at.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.