From Foreign to Friendship

By Kristina Harter | July 24, 2013, 7:52 p.m. (ET)

Kristina Harter, USA Volleyball Communications Intern, Phone: (719) 228-6800, Email:
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 24, 2013) - The welcoming of foreign teams to the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships (HPC) in recent years has evolved into a platform of intercultural ties among countries. And this year’s event being held July 23-27 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is no different.

The New Zealand-American relationship, in particular, proved its growing bond when New Zealand Junior Head Coach Neil Anderson presented a token of gratitude to USA Volleyball at the opening ceremony on Tuesday.  The token came in the shape of the Koru plant pendant, which is deeply symbolic in the New Zealand culture.

“The Koru is a symbol of new beginnings, harmony, growth and life,” Anderson said as he presented the gift.

Tom Pingel, USA Volleyball senior director of events, accepted the keepsake with thanks and believes foreign teams, like New Zealand, add to the worth of the HPCs.  

“The New Zealand teams have been a big part of the event for the past several years,” Pingel said. “The fact that they are here enhances this event as well as their program. They have become a consistent, cultural addition to the event.”

At this year’s HPC, a total of 111 teams are competing with foreign teams representing Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Peru, Puerto Rico and New Zealand. At the start of the event, everyone is curious about the foreign teams and eager to break the cultural barrier, which is one reason why the opening ceremony is important Pingel said.

“The opening ceremony does a good job of bringing all the teams together,” Pingel said.

From a foreign perspective, Giles Black, a player from New Zealand Juniors, said that adjusting from wood floors to Sport Court has not been the only thing that sets the two countries apart.  Although both Americans and New Zealanders speak English, there is a small obstacle called accents. 

“It’s not hard to break the accent barrier, but it gets humorous sometimes,” Black said. “Sometimes we say things and people don’t understand, but it’s actually good fun.”

Regardless of which country actually has an accent, Black says his experience so far has been, “absolutely amazing.”

Countless American players appreciated the opportunity for international exposure at the event. While waiting for his match to start, Christian Lizana, who competes on the Keystone Region Boy’s International team, watched the New Zealand team play.

“It’s a really fun experience to see all these international teams coming here to play,” Lizana said. “It’s cool to see the different sides of volleyball and see how talented each individual player is.”

Lizana and his team enjoy the culture of New Zealand, particularly the famous ritual dance that the team has performed both in the gym and on stage at the opening ceremony (see video above the article).

“New Zeland’s ritual dance was pretty intimidating,” admitted Lizana, as his teammates laughed, “but it was interesting to see. “

Lizana may not be able to compete with the ritual, but he could “teach them how to dougie.”

All jokes aside, Lizana and his teammates are looking forward to see how they measure up to the New Zealand team in a Thursday match.

“We’re proud to represent Pennsylvania,” Lizana said. “We’re definitely a scrappy team, but we get done what needs to be done.”

Sean Mullen, a Team Florida Boys National Youth player, was grateful for the chance to compete with an international team and make some new friends along the way, despite his team’s loss versus Puerto Rico Select.

“It’s great to see the sport growing and spreading,” Mullen said. “A lot of different communities have been brought together and we’ve been able to make friends with players from other countries.”

Pingel, among others at USA Volleyball, hope to see more international teams at future HPCs to make connections like that of New Zealand and continue to nurture the sport on an international level. 

“We look forward to welcoming any foreign ream to this event,” Pingel said. “The diversity grows the game and they enjoy being here too. “