Heath Hoke and Company Detail NORCECA Trip

July 07, 2008, 8:40 p.m. (ET)

July 7, 2008 * Puerto Rico

Breakfast at 8:15 a.m., meet at 9:15 for a little running warm-up. Before practice at 10 a.m., we headed down to the track for some pre-practice laps and stretching. Just like every other American volleyball player, the girls were very excited about running. In the words of Dixon, it was Nawesome. Although the girls may have not cared for the run, the staff appreciated the readiness for practice. The team was settling into a smoother rhythm today at practice. The staff has some objectives for the team so they are training hard.

The bus was late to get us due to traffic on the way. We made it to the venue in time with the help of our police escort. We have a police escort each day to the playing facility, but today was a little more interesting with two motorcycle officers. They cleared traffic with quick precision. Before arriving the team sang Happy Birthday to my daughter Layne, who turned 12 today. It is tough being away on her birthday, so the girls promise to play extra hard to make up for it.

Set I versus U.S. Virgin Islands: USA started Thomas as setter, Denney and Dixon in the middle, Wittman and Orozco on left, Wopat on right and Bonilla at libero. USA jumps out of the gate against U.S. Virgin Islands to a quick 8-1 lead at the technical. A serving error by Wittman gave Virgin Island there second point and an ace gave them their third. USA gathers focus and pushes to technical timeout two 16-3. At 17-3, USA subs Kreklow for Thomas. USA is forcing its will on U.S. Virgin Islands and gains points with ease. Wopat on a service run of five serves with three aces taking the set to 22-5. Wittman with a kill to finish set one 25-7.

Set II: USA starts Wopat at right, Reeves and Orozco at left, Dixon and Denney in middle and Kreklow setting. USA came out stronger in set two. Leading 8-3 for the first technical timeout and quickly running up 8 more points for a 16-3 second technical. USA is landing some plays worked on in practice today and looking good. A blocked slide by U.S. Virgin Island encourages the Dominican Team into cheers of support for U.S. Virgin Islands. USA making some hitting errors giving U.S. Virgin Islands three points. Bai subbed in for Wopat and gets the set winning kill at 25-7.

Set III: USA starts Thomas setting, Wittman and Reeves OH, Hutson and Denney in the middle and Bai opposite. USA is getting the job done leading 8-1 at the first technical. Wittman serves wide after a run giving U.S. Virgin Islands its second point. USA leads 16-3 for second technical. Errors by USA have given U.S. Virgin Islands the bulk of its points. The U.S. Virgin Islands has struggled with USA’s serve all match and with their own. With a not pretty left hand swing by Reeves, USA hits the jackpot ending the Match with triple sevens, 25-7.

USA finishes first in pool B. We have an off-day tomorrow. After practice at 1 p.m., we plan to get our feet wet for a few hours.

Happy Birthday Layne, your Dad.

Carly Thomas. Photo copyrighted by USA Volleyball.Carly Thomas (Setter, 5-11, Swansea, Ill., 2010, Southwest Illinois VBC, Gateway)

Last night we played Trinidad & Tobago and we won in three sets. After the match we went to Macaroni Grill with our parents. We were very happy because we didn’t have to eat the rice and meat that we get every lunch and dinner. It was awesome!!

On the bus ride home our sweet bus driver Elvin aka Willy played the song Gasolina that Amy talking about for the whole time we have been here. It’s also Kelly Reeves' favorite song that is in Spanish.

When we got back to the room, we all went to bed because we had to get up early for more cafeteria food. After we ate we hiked down the HUGE hill to the track where we had to run two laps around the track for our warm-up. When we were finished running, we had to hike back up the HUGE hill. Heath made us walk backwards, and do lunges up the HUGE hill.

Then we had practice for an hour and a half. An hour after practice we ate more rice and meat from the cafeteria. And now we are sitting here waiting for our bus to get here so we can leave for our game.

Lydia Bai. Photo copyrighted by USA VolleyballLydia Bai (Opposite/Setter, 6-2, Tustin, Calif., 2010, TCA, Southern California)

After the overwhelming match against Trinidad & Tobago, Melissa gave us the chance to escape from the rice, beans and chicken buffet in the cafeteria and eat at a place we have never heard of, Macaroni and Grill. The plaza the restaurant was in was surprisingly and extremely “American”. It was filled with Home Depot, Cold Stone (yum), Best Buy and a random Sylvan Learning Center. After eating in Macaroni Grill the waitress was extremely tired of me constantly asking for PAN, which is bread in Spanish, because as we all know we are extremely ravenous volleyball players that eat two times our weight.

On the way back to the hostel the trip back was amazingly beautiful with different types of green trees dotting the hills and an occasional cow. Also to make the ride even more “Puerto Rican” our bus driver Willy plays reggae giving us the feel of their culture and a chance to sing in Spanish. The bus ride was extremely eventful as Carly Thomas had mentioned, but I believe that she was too embarrassed to say, that we stole her phone the whole bus ride and her shoes so she was forced to walk throughout the Olympic Hostel with just her socks; it was priceless.

Once in the room we had to solve the dilemma of laundry. After laboriously piling our sweaty jerseys into a plastic bag we had to scrape all of our quarters together and miraculously washed all of our jerseys. Once task one was finished we had to make sure that when we brushed our teeth - we used bottled water not the sink water.

So far on our trips we have been able to bond with the Puerto Rican Girls' soccer team, and the U.S. Virgin Islands girls volleyball team and they have made our stay in Puerto Rico so much more exciting and memorable by playing random games like ZOO and ScatterGories. It is an indescribable feeling walking to the cafeteria and recognizing different faces from different parts of the world and realizing that this trip to Puerto Rico was AWESOME. Even though my team and I had to brave through the dangers of a one inch lizard-gecko-chameleon (unknown specimen), the red and black attached mating bugs and Heath’s laundry; this was an experience of a lifetime.

Amy Scullion. Photo copyrighted by USA VolleyballAmy Scullion (Outside Hitter, 6-0, Salem, Ohio, 2010, Tri-County, Ohio Valley)

Today is day 10 of my trip. So far it has been a lot of work, but a ton of fun!

My trip began in Dallas, with a training camp for three days. Training camp was intense, but we made huge improvements and more importantly began to bond as a team.

At the end of training camp, the seven of us had to figure out how to do laundry before we left for Puerto Rico the next morning. Doing laundry stinks! It took us forever.

After a late night of laundry, it was a little rough the next morning getting up to catch our flight. Travel went smoothly except for all the people staring at us because we were wearing out USA sweats. I think people thought we were going to the Olympics.

The Puerto Rican airport was insane but all our luggage made it so we couldn’t complain. When we arrived at the training center where would sleep we received our first Puerto Rican meal, salad, rice and some kind of meat. We eat this meal everyday for lunch and dinner - its good, just very repetitive.

The next morning the other five girls arrived. That night we played in our first match. Representing our country and wearing USA on my jersey was something I will never forget. It made all the long hard training sessions worth it.

Today we beat the U.S. Virgin Islands, which made us 3-0 after defeating Trinidad & Tobago yesterday. This moves us into a good position to hopefully win the tournament and qualify us for Worlds.