U.S. Women's Junior National Team Journal with Sha'Dare McNeal and Annie Luhrsen

July 22, 2008, 1:22 p.m. (ET)

NOTE: Sha'Dare McNeal (Fallbrook, Calif.) and Annie Luhrsen (Wheaton, Ill.) are members of the U.S. Women's Junior National Team competing in the 2008 NORCECA Women's Junior Continental Championship at Saltillo, Mexico. The U.S. opens competition against Dominican Republic on July 22.

At the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista
19 girls but only 12 can go - you do the math.

We all arrived at the OTC on July 8 and had no idea what to expect. The past two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, whether it’s being homesick, selected to the team, or seeing girls you have bonded with leave. Our time at the OTC was fun and exciting, which made for new experiences. We were surrounded by elite athletes, many who are going to Beijing inspiring us all to give our best when we stepped on the court.

Playing with the best volleyball players has also made us as individuals work harder because we are constantly getting pushed to higher levels of play. From our hard work in the gym, we were able to make a strong team bond on the court. Our bond has also extended off the court and we have become really close to the girls that were strangers to us two weeks ago.

In our spare time, we were able to go shopping, see movies and hangout at the beach. Last Friday, we even started practice early to see the governator, Arnold Swarnegger. He was really cool and even took a team photo with us.

Some side notes of the OTC
Food was amazing; woke up only to eat the pancakes and waffles
Had a BBQ one night. It was a killer; there were ribs, huge prezels, baked beans, and games on the lawn.
Every day in the cafeteria we were in for a surprise with this guy who was such a competitor. He bet his fellow athletes on impossible things to eat or drink. One night he bet someone to eat a spoonful of cinnamon.

ATT Athlete Connection Center
Provided entertainment for all of the athletes
Had computers, huge screen TV;s, ping-pong, and of course, guitar hero!


The alarms went off at the fresh hour of 4:45 a.m. Pacific Time. Both our grumpiness and sleepiness went away when we stepped outside and saw our huge limo bus. The two-hour ride went by quickly because everyone fell asleep about 20 minutes into the trip.

We got through security and were able to check in with little difficulty. Walking through the airport was interesting to say the least. Decked out in USA gear, many people mistook us for the Olympic team and wondered why we were headed to Houston and not Beijing.

Although the flight seemed long, there were no difficulties and we arrived in Houston safely. Our layover was relatively quick and before long, we were flying to a new country. Finally, after a long day of travel, we arrived in Saltillo. Mexico. The rest of the night was spent settling in, a quick dinner, and getting to bed early.

Monday, July 21
This morning, we woke up for breakfast and then headed off to our first practice. Although adjusting to the time change and being in a new country was tough at first, we think that we’re finally ready to get on the court and compete. Our first match is tomorrow night against the Dominican Republic. Wish us luck!!

Some side notes on our travels
Our plane from Houston to Saltillo was so small that as we were landing we saw a rainbow outside the plane. It was pretty cool!

More from our teammates tomorrow.

Sha'Dare McNeal (Fallbrook, Calif.) and Annie Luhrsen (Wheaton, Ill.)