Drews Ready to 'Rock and Roll' in Olympic Qualifier

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | July 29, 2019, 1:24 p.m. (ET)

Annie Drews became a major force for the U.S. Women during the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League as one of its leaders on the court
Annie Drews became a major force for the U.S. Women during the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League as one of its leaders on the court

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 29, 2019) – Annie Drews was named most valuable player of the 2019 FVB Volleyball Nations League, and now she is ready to ‘rock and roll’ in this week’s FIVB Women’s Volleyball Tokyo Qualification Tournament being held Aug. 2-4 in Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana.

Drews, who made her U.S. Women’s National Team debut in late August 2017 during an exhibition series with Brazil, propelled herself into a prime role with Team USA this summer leading the Americans to gold in the VNL. She took a few minutes last week for an interview talking about playing for the U.S. Women representing the USA and the upcoming tournament in which Team USA can secure its 2020 Olympic Games berth.

What does it mean to wear the USA uniform and wearing USA flag on your chest, representing our country in international matches?
Annie Drews:“Just hearing you say that makes me kind of emotional. That's really cool. It is something I think I knew I was capable of but never really seriously considered that this could happen. I just feel super grateful. I think to represent your country in any capacity is huge, and to do it next to people who are making you better and coaches who you have full trust and belief in, it is just so sweet.”

You have a chance to qualify for the Olympics Games on USA soil in Shreveport-Bossier City. What does it mean to you that that opportunity on U.S. soil?
AD: “The first thing I think is, ‘Heck yeah!’ To be able to compete in this kind of an environment in general is so cool and to have it in front of your friends and family and on TV in your home country and things like that, it's just so cool. I think it's a really great stepping stone for the sport as well. We're always looking for ways to grow the game and I think just to have that here is just a really good step in the right direction. We don't get to (play in the USA) much of the year at all and so to be in the states in general, let alone doing the one thing you're really passionate about, is just going to be really really cool.”

Being you are competing in the USA, you won’t have to deal with long flights and ensuing jet lag. How is that an advantage?
AD: “It definitely is. We leave on Tuesday and play Friday, but we have plenty of time to get there and get acclimated. Not be fighting jet lag is just always a blessing. The other thing is we often bring our own food (on international trips) because even if countries have great food or sufficient food for us, as an athlete you need to fuel your body in a way that it's used to and comfortable with. We tend to bring a lot of our own food. So in America it's like wait, I can bring half as much stuff and we can get there a couple days later and still be ready to rock and roll with a lot less adversity. That's a really nice element on playing on home soil.”

Tickets to Tokyo Qualification Tournament in Shreveport-Bossier City

Are you going to have a lot of family and friends in Shreveport watching you play?
AD: “My parents will come to Shreveport. Together they have not seen me play for USA since 2017 when we had some exhibition matches against Brazil. My mom has seen me play in Lincoln for VNL, but my dad has not seen me since 2017 and those exhibition matches when I was in my first couple months on the team. I'm really pumped about that. They'll be there, and then my boyfriend's family and my boyfriend will be there. I don't think his family's ever seen me play live and he hasn't seen me play in a really long time. That will kind of be my home group in Shreveport.”

What will it be like playing in front of a home crowd as well as well as your family and friends?
AD: “I think it's going to be awesome. I'm really excited to see the fans in Shreveport and I just hope they are loud and proud. I’m super pumped it's also on TV so we can get a lot of people back home watching as well. I think there can be a lot of traction around this event. It's a huge event for us, a huge event for our sport and for our Tokyo berth hopefully. Yeah, I'm really excited to see the turn out.”

The team won VNL for the second year a role. This year you went from being a role player to now having a major role with the team. Can you explain this year’s VNL and how it has helped prepare the team for this Olympic qualifier?
AD: “I this it has been a really unique year. It almost feels like two separate experiences from last year to this year, both personally and I think as the team. Last year we left with 14 people and pretty much kept the same 14 people the whole time. As the tournament went on people did kind of settle into their roles or you had a better idea of what the expectation was for you that night. We started this VNL in 2019 with a very young group, so someone like myself who's been on the team for a while and a couple other people my age, Megan Courtney and Micha Hancock, we have this opportunity to not only play but also to lead and to get to know people. I was really excited about that. I think it pumped some confidence into us middle ground people where we've traveled a lot but maybe haven't always played. I think it was really good to get some young people in pushing us as well. Obviously the roster looked different from week one to Finals week. We did get some of our more experienced players joining us throughout. I just feel like personally it was a great opportunity to play a different role each week and I felt very trusted. I felt like I was playing with a lot more confidence towards the end because of that role that was kind of established early.”

Describe whether you had any dream that you would become MVP of this tournament?
AD:“When I got back to California from my pro season, I was like ‘Get on that roster.’ That is how deep our gym is. I did not go to World Championship last year as I was not selected for that roster. You can only limit yourself to so much until you just have to be like ‘I gotta go. Who cares if I'm stepping on toes or if I feel uncomfortable or if I look stupid. It’s now or never.’ That is how I felt. I was like get on week one roster, then week one I was like get to Lincoln (third VNL preliminary week) and in Lincoln I'm like let's make it to Finals. Keep your spot and through that I kind of adapted this attitude of like ‘Hey, just go do it and see what happens.’ Karch (Kiraly) and I talk a lot about this term, ‘be a house on fire.’ If you're going to get pulled or if you're going to get taken off the roster, at least you went out swinging and punching. That's kind of been my MO this summer. I think it's been a work in progress but something I think that I could have adopted more of sooner. I'm hoping to keep that momentum into the rest of the summer and next year as well - to just go out swinging for this team and really establish myself as our opposite.”

You have such a deep team. How does the team dynamic work in knowing that you are trying to fight for a roster position but you know that possibly your best friend is also fighting for that same spot.
AD: “It's delicate mentally. It is a great advantage having that kind of depth - it is an incredible thing. There are nights in VNL where I just simply was not getting the job done, and thankfully here's someone ready chomping at the bit to come in and do that job. So you're thankful for it, but also it's hard. You know no one wants to get pulled or no one wants to get sat. We all come from these programs overseas and collegiately where we play all the time. We're the go to face. It's definitely been a process to kind of manage that. Going into this year looking at some of the shortcomings of our team from last year, we needed more production from our opposites. My thing this year has been, ‘OK, goal number one let's lock it down in our position. If it's me that night, it's me. If it's Jordan Thompson or Karsta Lowe, it's them.’ At the end of the day, if we are statistically doing what this team needs, then I can worry about the rest when I go to sleep at night. That's on me after. But in that 90 minutes or so when we're in the gym, my only focus is someone in our position holding it down. But it's easier said than done at times. That's just kind of where I think I need to be to help our position be at its most productive place.”