Four countries, 10 days and a lifetime of memories

Photo courtsey of NAU Athletics Communications

Women’s volleyball prepared for the fall season through practice and educating themselves on foreign cultures on a trip to Europe this summer, June 23 to July 4.

The Lumberjacks’ first stop was Prague, Czech Republic. Despite lengthy flights, layovers and sightseeing through the day, the evening of their first day in Europe consisted of practice. They worked to take on the Czech Republic University Games team the following day. NAU lost in four sets but consistently improved throughout the match. This was a theme in every scrimmage of their tour.

“The team continued to mesh and grow together during each game,” head coach Ken Murphy said. “No matter how well a match may have started, they worked harder and better together until the end.”

Their 10-day trip followed a similar schedule, but no two days were the same.

After Prague, the team bused to Vienna, Austria. They saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was a highlight for redshirt junior Victoria Ewalefo.

“The Cathedral was one of the most breathtaking things we’ve seen so far,” Ewalefo said in the team blog. “I couldn’t get over the detail and the high ceilings. The architecture was incredible.”

This trip was more than an opportunity to explore countries and play volleyball. It opened up the eyes of a few players such as senior outside hitter Sydney Lema.

“I think everyone has some type of desire to travel, but I never thought I would actually do it,” Lema said. “Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I have an itch and can’t wait to do it again.”

Lema said that with such a large group there were some experienced travelers who helped guide and prepare some of the lesser experienced. Freshman Neche Newton was also unfamiliar with traveling outside of the United States. Even the simplest of tasks like going through customs caused a bit of anxiety, but Lema and Newton agreed that their teammates made things easier.

Newton said the greatest workout was the amount that they walked. The foot mileage was worth the trouble if it meant learning more

“Of course these places were beautiful, but actually learning about and understanding cultures and history of everything was the best part,” Newton said.

Lema and Newton said the trip was organized beautifully — their itinerary allowed them to go through structured tours, but at times were given the opportunity to explore freely.

Newton said she is not struggling to fit in with other members of the team. She began playing club volleyball when she was 17, whereas most of the girls on her first team had been playing together since they were 12.

“I never thought playing with a new team was awkward because I was there to do my job and get my reps,” Newton said.

Newton said that her transition was natural because of junior outside hitter Heaven Harris, who welcomed Newton and took her under her wing.

Harris is leaving her footprints on the program. In her freshman year alone, she totaled 287 kills and surpassed that number last season with 382. Harris is entering the 2019 season seventh in program history in hitting percentage at .300, and she still has two years left.

The women’s bond grew closer as they traveled through Europe. Newton said she hopes to continue her mentorship as the season approaches and progresses.

“I want to be that teammate that everyone has confidence in during stressful situations,” Newton said. “Our standard is so high for this season. I can’t wait to elevate with the team.”

The team practiced for 10 days together prior to the trip and Murphy was not shocked by how well the Lumberjacks performed and bonded.

“This is such a strong program and I have great confidence in our returners,” Murphy said. “I knew the incoming freshmen had open arms in front of them.”

Murphy is happy with how the team played and is glad they enjoyed traveling. He said the team is back in the U.S. and is working hard toward achieving their goals, one of which is winning the Big Sky championship.

The team has been practicing twice a day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Lema said the games played in Europe allowed them to get a jump start on recognizing the value of teamwork and what needs to be improved.

The Lumberjacks have their first match against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Aug. 24.