Sunday, September 18, 2011

Borås Cup Tournament

This weekend we had a cup-tournament thing in Borås, which is about 2 hours north from Ljungby. I have absolutely NO idea if the cup meant anything, exactly, but I do know trophies were handed out for 1st-3rd place so maybe it was important. Who knows? We took two 8-passenger mini-vans up: Lena drove our van, with Malin riding shotgun, Jo, Selma and I in the middle row, and Nata and Linn in the back. The 2-hour ride began around 8am taking us through the countryside – which I think is pretty much most of Sweden – but every now and then a random, small town would pop up. During the ride, Selma kept us all pretty entertained with various outbursts; Jo is keeping a “Selma Quote Sheet” with all of Selma’s random funny thoughts. For example: the entire drive up, Selma was drinking from Jo’s water bottle as Selma thought she had left hers at home. Upon realizing that it has slipped in the seat, she turns to Jo with the water bottle in her hand and says, “I think I am stupid”. As we continued driving, she pointed out the window to cows and says “look, Jo, its my family!” Don’t even ask her about eggs…
There were 3 courts: Men's Elite Series, Women's Elite Series, and Women's Division I
Finally arriving at the gym, the vans unload and everyone headed inside to get dressed for our first match. We had received our warm-ups (Puma jackets with a neck-side zipper and capris – although mine haven’t come in yet) at practice on Friday, but we would be wearing last year’s jerseys and spandex until the new ones arrive for season. The jerseys were light dry-fit and fairly comfortable while the spandex were made of EXTRA thin material complete with our sponsors’ ads covering the backside. Did I mention that they have a 1” in-seam? Let’s just say that everyone gets quite a show at our matches ;) We weren’t required to wear matching kneepads this weekend, but in the future we will be wearing the Euro-style black kneepads, and knee-high white socks. Dressed and ready, we headed out to the gym to begin warming up for the first match. We played against a team from Denmark who is in the Danish Elite Series – we won’t be playing them in regular season. Unfortunately, we lost this first match in 2; we all think we could have competed much better with them. I’m not sure if it was the drive, or just that we were a bit overwhelmed as a team by the tournament atmosphere; either way, rule #76 says: “no excuses, play like a champion”.  The 2nd match we lost in 3 to Lindesberg, the team that won the whole tournament. This was a much better turnaround from the previous match, as our serve receive and ball control greatly improved. Lindesberg finished 3rd last year in our division; we will be playing them this season. The coach for Lindesberg used to be an assistant coach at University of Miami (FL) when Jo and I were being recruited; he came up to both of us periodically during the weekend to ask us how we were adjusting the Sweden, so nice of him. The last match on Saturday we beat Halmstad (also in our division) in 3. After the last match, we had to ref before we were able to go check-in at the hotel and shower for dinner.

Lisa, Selma, and Nata waiting to check in at the Scandia Hotel
At dinner, I was feeling a bit chilly so I turned to Malin to ask her if she was cold also. She responded with “I’m always cold”; a fairly typical response, so I just accepted it and moved on, however, she started telling me this long story about how she used nasal spray almost every day for 2 years and that she had to go to the doctor to get her nose checked out. The doctor stuck a (here she fumbled to find the English word, so asked Jules for help) camera up her nose to check out her sinus cavities to see if there was a problem. The doctor just found that she is very dry, so she is no longer allowed to use the nasal spray or she gets really bad nosebleeds. Despite this, she constantly has a runny nose and sounds congested, and she picks her nose sometimes. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story and have a very confused look on your face, right? Well, I was wondering the exact same thing about Malin, and I finally just said to her, “maybe you should stop picking your nose”, then turned back to eating my dinner, feeling like I had not gotten an answer to my original question. Jo, who is sitting across from me at the table, helps clarify by saying “she thought you meant ‘cold’ (pretends to blow her nose) not ‘cold’ (rubs her shoulders)”. Malin and I turn to each other and start bursting out in laughter. Side note: Malin is usually the one who translates to Jo and I at practice, so its making me wonder if what she tells us is really what is being said. This cold/cold controversy spread around the table and has become quite a joke for our team. Next time, I’ll just ask, “Hey, Malin, are you hot?” Although she’ll probably say, “yeah, my boyfriend tells me all the time...”

Sunday, our first match was against Vordingborg (from Denmark), aka Tara’s team (Jo’s friend who we hung out with in Copenhagen) whom we beat in 2. We then had to wait a little over 4 hours to play the 5th place match against Halmstad – yes, the same team we had beaten in 3 the day before. Of course, the long break threw us off our volleyball-mojo and, despite valiant efforts in the 2nd set, we lost in 2, taking 6th place in the cup. After the match, Daniel (our coach) said that should be proud but not content with how we played and that we found some things we can work on and so overall this weekend was good. There were moments that we were able to hold everything together and play strongly and moments that exposed our weaknesses. Hopefully, the matches from this weekend can help motivate us to work hard in the upcoming practices.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Velkommen til København (Welcome to Copenhagen)

After practice on Tuesday, Jo and I drove with Jazz to Växjö, pronounced softly as Veh-kwah, to spend the night so we could catch the train to Copenhagen the next morning. Jazz had helped book our train tickets (only $75 round trip!) and would help us begin our journey the next morning. Our trip to Copenhagen was fairly unplanned, with no ideas of where we would be staying, what we would be seeing, or what there even was to see; however, these often make some of the best and memorable trips, so it was a risk both Jo and I were willing to take.

Jo and I catching the train in Växjö
The train left around 9am and after a quick stop in Alevesta, we were on our way, traveling south through Lund then Malmö before crossing the water into Denmark. As we pulled into the central station, Tara – one of Jo’s friends playing in Denmark – called to let us know she was just leaving to meet us in the city. With a few minutes to spare, Jo and I decided to head to the nearest 7-11 in search of coffee and some American-style donuts. SUCCESS! Before I knew it, Jo was up and running towards Tara and we were ready to begin our trek through the city. Deciding to just have a self-guided walking tour, we only paused for some city scene pictures. Tara had never really been around Copenhagen “tourist-style” so the three of us were a perfect group. We started at the Tivoli Gardens – something I had never heard of until stalking through one of my friend’s pictures (who is now playing in Copenhagen). Next to the Tivoli Gardens is the Town Hall Square where we followed the crowd down the main pedestrian street that was full of shopping, bars, and restaurants. We saw a tall, green steeple peeking out through the buildings, which I later learned was part of the Christiansborg Castle. Miraculously, we managed to make our way to Kongens Nytorv near the Copenhagen Harbor. It was here in the harbor that we learned about the open container policy of Denmark: there isn’t one. There was actually a bar advertising “take away beer and shots” which, unfortunately, we did not take advantage of. We continued on, now in search for my coveted Little Mermaid statue, passing the Gefion Fountain – commonly used as a wishing well – which is across from the Anglican St. Alban’s Church. Finally we reached what I had been waiting for all day: THE LITTLE MERMAID!

Me and Ariel <3
After a few great photos, we were ready for some food. The food was delicious and gave us the energy needed to find our next destination: the Carlsberg Brewery, where Tara’s friend Jessica would be meeting us. After retracing our steps back to the Kongens Nytorv, we stopped a horse-police man to ask for directions to the closest bus station that could take us to the brewery. Despite his advice to take the metro, we hopped on the 1A bus (after only paying for 2 passes) and hoped for the best. So far everything else had gone fairly smoothly, how could this not follow in suit? At our stop, Tara told us “hurry” off the bus, so me, being the first one at the door, jumped off without looking. I was almost run over…by a cyclist. Luckily, I survived. The three of us burst into laughter just as Jessica got off the bus behind ours. A few brief introductions and we followed Jessica through the streets, as she had directions on her phone, towards the brewery. Or so we thought. After walking about 3.5 blocks, we stopped in a mini-mart to ask if we were headed in the correct direction. The man shook his head and pointed out the door, in the direction we had just come from. Oops! We should’ve guessed that the large white building with “Carlsberg” on the top was probably where the tasting would be held. Unfortunately we arrived about 10 minutes after the final tour for the day, and were given lanyards with bottle openers as a consolation prize. Wandering to the nearest bar, we decided to have our own beer tasting instead, asking the bartender for recommendations. The rest of the evening consisted of swapping stories about our teams, both past and present, and sharing jokes as if we had known each other for years. A few hours of laughter later, we decided to call it a night. Jo and I went back with Tara to her teammate’s apartment to spend the night. Our adventure in Copenhagen was definitely one for the books and something I am hoping to do again during my time here. 

Jo, Tara, and I at the Copenhagen Harbor

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our first scrimmage: Ljungby VBK vs. Gislaved

The match began very slowly, our team struggling to find a way to score. Our serve receive and first ball contact was very touch-and-go, allowing the visiting team to come out on top with a first set score of 14-25. In between the two sets, we decided to come back with more focus and communication. Set two we were able to put that talk into action, resulting in a 25-14 victory. Jimmie and Daniel both told me “keep going to Jo”; there was just no stopping her. She and I have been connecting very well on all attacks, thanks to our much-improved passing. The 3rd set was similar to the one before, winning 25-16. Despite our two high-margin wins, we struggled in the 4th to go on a run. (Emma started at M2, and then Asha came in to finish out the set.) The points were back and forth throughout the set, as neither team gained more than a 2-3 point lead. Finally, we came out on top 25-23. As this was just a scrimmage match, we would play a fifth set to 25-points. Linn started at setter, Lisa played O1, middles were the same, and Mia played Libero; a little over halfway through the final set, Nata finished out setting. This final game was back and forth, with Gislaved taking the lead at 21-19, but after a few strong serves from Malin, we tied it up. The final score was 26-24; we won 4 sets to 1. (Usually you just play best of 5, but for the scrimmage, we wanted to get more time playing.) Despite our victory, we all knew that this did not mean anything. We needed to focus on the aspects of our game that needed improvement: serve receive and defense, this upcoming week in practice. 

See below for a crude line-up for the match:

           Game 1                        Games 2-4                        Game 5
Jo        Malin        Jule    |   Jule     Asha    Sofie   |    Jule     Asha    Lisa
Me      Sofie        Asha   |   Malin    Jo         Me    |   Malin    Jo        Linn

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We're going $HOPPING in Växjö !!!

Friday night, we got a text message from Daniel, our coach, asking if Jo and I would be interested in going into Vaxjo for a day of shopping. Always eager to visit new towns, we agreed. 10:30 the next day, we began a 45-minute drive from Ljungby to Vaxjo down a 2, sometimes 3-lane, highway with the speed limit ranging from 100kph to 70kph. While on the drive, Daniel pointed out an area where a girl on our team, Jazz, hit a moose. Despite the fences surrounding the roadway, the moose sometimes still manage to break free and challenge cars on the road, typically resulting in Moose: 1, driver + car: 0. Jazz was fine; her car on the other hand was not. After parking near the movie theater, we walked to the main street to begin our day of shopping. Jo and I followed Daniel and his friend, David, into the first shop. Not sure of what this day would bring, we approached each store with an open mind. After the first shop, Daniel released us on the town with a warning: stay on this street, or you will get lost. He already knows us too well. Each store had the same fall-fashion with summer clothes for sale. I’m not sure if we were really awake or not, because we wandered in and out of practically every retail store on the street. Jo and I finally tired of going in and out of the stores, and sat to observe the locals. We noticed how well dressed everyone seemed, despite just wearing jeans, a jacket, and converse shoes. It was then we realized that most people here wear skinny jeans or leggings. Together, we decided that the American fashion of somewhat flared or boot cut jeans made us look sloppy compared to the Europeans. Jazz finally texted us to meet up for lunch. She took us to an Italian restaurant, where the food was delicious! We explained to her, Daniel, and David, our new revelation about fashion. Jazz took it upon herself to help us with our fashion-crisis. After trying on about 9 different articles of clothing each, and being eyed up and down by each other and then Jazz, we moved from H&M to another store in the mall. Yet another round of dress up, and it was on to the final store, Cubis. At the end of it all, Jo and I were satisfied with our choices: Jo got a pair of black skinny jeans, a shirt, and a dress; I got a shirt and a pair of light colored skinny jeans. Hopefully this can help ease our transition from unglamorous Americans to chic Swedes. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back to school, back to school, to prove to Dad I'm not a fool..

So, the sun rises between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning here in Ljungby. My mom would NEVER be able to sleep in such bright conditions, and apparently after my relentless mocking, I had to learn the hard way that payback is indeed a b****. Last night was the first, and only, night that we left the blinds open in our room – yes, Jo and I are still sharing a room at the moment. Due to the beaming sunshine, I woke up at hourly intervals beginning at 5am and continuing until our alarm went off at 7:15. There is absolutely nothing worse than waking up a few minutes before your alarm is about to go off. After breakfast, we headed across the “banana bridge” to meet Daniel. We would spend the morning at Astradskolan (a local school here in the Ljungby community) where both Daniel and Johanna work. We signed in at the front desk for our visitor badges and then went into the exclusive teachers’ lounge. Daniel showed us our article in the local newspaper, complete with a full-color, half-page picture of Jo and I. I’m going to try to get a picture of the article to show everyone, and hopefully can mail a copy of it to my parents; unfortunately, its 100% in Swedish thus very unlikely that any of you can read it, but best of luck to you all. Daniel also told us that there is a new American coach at Lindesberg, Matt Botsford, former assistant at University of Miami, who knew both Jo and I. Such a small world!

Back to the main story: school. Our first class of the day would be with the English teacher, Lena, with a group of 13 year olds. After a brief somewhat awkward introduction of who we are and where we’re from, we distributed sheets of paper for the class to write down a question for us to answer. These questions varied from “do you watch Family Guy/Simpsons/South Park” to “how long have you been playing volleyball”. This first class was fairly reserved, partially due to this being their first class of the day and partially due to their hesitance about speaking English out loud. There is a ten-minute break between the first and second class, just enough time for students and teachers to have a quick sandwich and coffee. Johanna arrived just in time to take us back to the English teacher for another class. This one had the same routine of “hi, my name is Meghan, I’m from Florida” followed by question and answer time. This class provided us with a few new questions such as “have you been to Europe before”, “how long have you known each other”, and “do you have a boyfriend?” The last question was followed up by Lena asking me “will he come to visit?” Hint hint ;) We spoke a little more to the class about our trip here before we had a 20-minute break. Back in the teachers’ lounge, we had an interesting conversation with Johanna about the death penalty and Bush vs. Obama, exposing some of the fundamental difference between our two nations. We had to rush back upstairs for our final class with Lena, her mentor class that she has been with for the past two years. They were a year or two older than the previous two classes, providing the necessary confidence boost to allow them to voice some of their questions aloud. Finally it was the end of our classroom experience and we went with Johanna to eat lunch in the cafeteria. On the menu: ham and potato soup or vegetable soup, served with 2 slices of bread, and followed by ice cream. We decided we had had enough of school for the day, and would go to Maxi for much needed groceries before heading home to rest before workout and practice.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grattis på födelsedagen, Jo!!!

Today was just like all the others, beginning extremely slowly and well into the afternoon. However, unlike the previous days, this one was special. It was Jo’s 23rd birthday! Being the great roommate that I am, I woke up a little bit before her, and made her a surprise birthday breakfast of nutella on bread with bananas cut in the shape of a “2” and a “3”. We were supposed to go to TC sometime this weekend for a workout, so we dressed in identical black leggings, sneakers, and our new red zip up fleece jackets and started walking. Malin had given us a town map the first day here and marked on it her apartment, the volleyball gym, and the training center; naturally we didn’t really rely too heavily on this map and instead attempted to find TC using our own intuition. Over an hour later, we had managed to find our way to the church that Jo’s dad recommended to us, but not too many other things. Just beyond the church there seemed to be a large green space. My assumption: its definitely a park; Jo’s assumption: more specifically a dog park. Upon further examination, this was a cemetery. Clearly, we wouldn’t be spending too much time around there. Instead, we continued walking, only to realize that after almost 2 hours in search of the training center, we were right back at Maxi. Maxi is approximately 5 minutes from our apartment, just in the opposite direction than when we started walking.

As we finished up our lunch, we got a text from Lisa: “Hey girls! Do you have any plans for tonight? Or do you wanna party? ” To which of course we responded, “we wanna party!!!” We took turns showering and skyping (finally!) before finally getting dressed and ready to go over to meet Lisa. The night began with French kebab sandwiches for dinner – essentially just a kebab on a baguette – then pre-gaming at Lisa’s friend Emma’s house. We drank some beer, had a few shots of Mintu and then started up some drinking games. More friends began to show up and before you know it, it was a full on house party. We met another American, born in Ft Lauderdale, who has been living in Sweden for the past 5 years. It was funny to see how much English he had lost after being here so long and not able to practice as much. Many of the Swedes had better overall English than he did. There was actually one point in the conversation where he was talking in his American-English accent (its more common here to have British-English accent, so its important to differentiate), paused mid-sentence to ask his friend, IN SWEDISH, how to say – wait for it – “admit”. Now, you know you’ve been in a foreign country far too long when you have to ask the non-English-speaker how to say a word in your own first language. Later that night, we somehow got onto the topic of being circumcised versus uncircumcised; apparently if you are European and a non-Jew or a non-Muslim, you will not be circumcised. This lead to all the girls questioning Jo and I about what the differences are, if the penises look bigger or smaller, if they function differently, and the biggest question: why do it? Neither of us could provide them with a serious enough medical or cultural answer that they were willing to accept. Hysterical laughter ensued before Emelia finally suggested that we headed over to Harry’s, which would be a 15-minute walk towards the city center. Harry’s is directly next to the Hotel Terraza that we eat lunch at during the week. Thus begins the mass consumption of free drinks. Jo’s selling point: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!! My selling point: I’M AMERICAN!!! From here, we instantly made friends with anyone and everyone in the bar. People flocked to us as if we were celebs. Literally. They walked into the bar and asked, “where are the Americans??” It was like a dream come true. Pretty sure that there was a moderate form of paparazzi snapping a photo or two. Ok, that last part was just Jo and I taking random pictures of each other at the bar. The night got a little bit crazy, with us meeting practically everyone. A Greek man bought me a drink for going to Paros, a Peruvian guy asked Jo for our number, and Emelia was making out with a rando. The bar closed at 2 and began kicking everyone out, so we decided it was time to go to sleep. This was definitely a great way to celebrate Jo’s 23rd birthday and welcome us to Ljungby.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's the Swede life for me

Today marks the beginning of my Swedish volleyball experience here in Ljungby – try to pronounce that as “Yoon-bee”. After sleeping in until 11, we went to Hotel Terraza, where we will eat 5 days a week, for lunch with Daniel (the head coach) and Malin – our teammate who’s apartment we are currently living at until our apartment gets furnished. After eating our meal of pizza salad (shredded cabbage – like in coleslaw – with oil, vinegar and pepper; apparently this salad always comes with pizza in Sweden, hence the name), sausage, and mashed potatoes, Jo and I decided to try to maneuver our way from the city center to Malin’s apartment. The walk was pretty basic: follow the parking lots to Maxi – our grocery store – go across the main road, turn left at the library, and stop at house #45. Luckily Ljungby is not such a metropolis thus making it very unlikely that we can get too lost. As a form of insurance, Malin gave us a town map with the 3 most important locations circled: Malin’s apartment/our current home, the volleyball hall/gym, and gym/training center/weight room. After doing some quick shopping at Maxi for tonight’s dinner and shampoo, we ventured back to the apartment for some R&R. Despite sleeping over 12 hours last night, this jet lag thing is really kicking our butts. Johanna, another teammate, would be picking us up to go to the gym aka TC 5:20, so we had plenty of time.

By 4:30, we were finally up and somewhat ready to begin getting dressed for practice. Jo’s bag that the airline lost has all of her spandex, t-shirts, kneepads and sports bras, so until that arrives she is stuck wearing my clothes; I really hope she likes the ripped seams that are present on every pair of my spandex. Johanna arrived and we headed over to TC (training center) for lifting. So apparently, this weight lifting program that both Jo and I were dreading has more of a DIY concept, where the girls are technically lifting together, but are able to pick and choose what exercises and body parts they want to do on any given day. This was somewhat of a relief, as we weren’t going to be participating in what we had assumed to be an extremely rigorous Swedish work out before our first practice. I think we might try to contact our former weight trainers from home to get some sort of program so we can actually benefit from working out, as opposed to just doing lunges, bench, sit ups, and squats each day. After an hour in the weight room, we headed over to the volleyball gym for our first practice. There, Jo and I had our first newspaper interview, and of course some pictures (good thing we were looking super attractive). I believe the girl who interviewed us will be emailing us the interview in PDF format, so as soon as I get it I can send it out to everyone. Not sure if it will be able to be translated, but good luck with that and welcome to my life :P

Our practice wasn’t too bad, we did some hitting lines off of live Libero passes, first setting outsides, then moving to middles and opposites. All of a sudden Daniel starts counting “10…9…8…7…” and Jo and I freeze, look around and see our teammates scrambling for loose balls. Apparently, if he ever starts counting, we have that much time to shag or else we have to take laps for every second we go over our 10-second time limit. From there, we did 5-on-5 out of system, where you have to set from the back row; a similar drill we did at Tampa. We did this for a while to make sure everyone understood before we competed. First team to 10 points would win; my team lost by 3. Fail. Daniel did some more counting, which we ended up having to run laps before we were allowed to get water. Finally we split up into two teams for a scrimmage. My team had Jo at M2, Johanna (who is called Jula, pronounce that Yoo-la) at Opposite, Asha (Polish teammate also named Joanna) at M1, Selma at Libero, Sophie at OH (she stayed from row the whole time), and of course, me setting. Everyone started off pretty slow, and had some minor communication errors, but things started getting a little better. The team cheers “två, tre, opa!” after each play. Of course, I can’t really pronounce those words, so I just end up doing a super awkward dance move to distract them from my disabilities, and wind up shouting OPA! So far I think it’s working out pretty well for me, and I usually get a couple chuckles out of my teammates, and sometimes even our opponents. We ended winning 25-19, with our middles having to play back row—pretty sure this was a first for Jo, but she did pretty well. More counting from Daniel before we were allowed to get some water and it was back to another scrimmage. This time instead of Sophie hitting outside, we had Lisa, but she would only play front row with Selma, the Libero, playing back row the whole time. Again, our team won, 25-20, and that would conclude our first Swedish practice.

There seems to be somewhat of language barrier, as the literal translation of “set” in Swedish to English is called a “pass”, so after I play the ball, if they think it was good, many of my Swedish teammates will tell me “good pass”. Also, the setting zones have completely different names from the offensive systems that we use in the States. Of course, that varies between coaches and teams across our own country, but even between Jo and my own pervious experiences, we had never heard some of these names for their respective sets. For example, a low, quick outside set that some call a “hut”, “shoot”, or “go” is called a “6” here; whereas a high outside ball here is called a “5”. A quick front-set to the middle is called an “A”, a quick backset is a “B” – both somewhat common in the States – but a slide is called a “sigma”. I’m not sure exactly how one would begin to make that hand signal… Our low, fast back set is called a “0”, or “null” and a high back set is called a “1”. Needless to say, when we got home, my head was definitely hurting from constantly trying to substitute my old offensive names for the new ones. I think this may take a bit of time.

It’s fair to say that tomorrow we will both be a little sore, and still seriously affected by jet lag, but that is the price we pay for, as Jo calls it, “the Swede life”. We wound up staying awake until almost 3am local time, talking about our friends and family, and learning more and more about our new built-in best friend. Anyways, that’s all for now, so until next time, I bid thee farewell.