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European Vacation: Notre Dame Volleyball Style – Maribor and Venice

May 28, 2013, 8:23 AM EST

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The view from the mountains where we did the ropes course.

It’s only been three days since my last blog, but when you’re trying to describe a European trip three days feels more like a week. It’s a little overwhelming trying to decide where to start and how much detail to include. Since Nicole Smith, Kathleen Severyn and Maggie Brindock did a wonderful job describing Vienna and Maribor (pronounced MARY-bore), I’m going to choose to hit just the highlights in hopes that it will quench your thirst for ND’s 2013 European Vacation – Maribor Style.

I’m about to admit something that will help lay the foundation for telling about our Friday morning in Maribor … I’m afraid of heights and I’m afraid of getting injured. So when I knew we were about to do a high ropes course on top of a mountain and then ride mini solo rollercoasters down the mountain that morning I could feel the eggs and sausage that I had ate for breakfast rumbling a little closer to the top of my stomach than I would normally want. (Side note: Scrambled eggs in Europe are the best I’ve ever had and we’ve all had enough sausage to last a lifetime – I’m talking Every … Single … Meal …)

Anyways back to us making our way to the top of the mountain. We jump in the tiniest, oldest ski lift I have ever seen sans railing to lower over our bodies. All I could picture was me somehow sliding out of the chair and having to hang on MacGyver style to avoid falling 100 feet. Upon reaching the top we were informed we would be swinging and climbing. The swinging involved being strapped into a harness, being lifted approximately 30 feet (10 meters everywhere else in the world) in the air and pulling your own cord to swing back and forth over the mountain edge. The climbing involved going up a telephone pole, standing on top of the pole with nothing to hold on to and jumping off with the faith that your group was holding onto the cords enough to catch you.

I feel like I could keep building up the suspense, but I’m going to choose to not type any more and just say that the story ends with our group all being successful including myself. Despite my fears I pulled the cord and swung over the mountain, climbed the pole and successfully jumped from the top and rode the tiniest little rollercoaster in the world down to the bottom where I was pumped to be back on level ground.

Before I talk about the downtown portion of Maribor, I’ll quickly talk about the two matches against the Slovenian National Team. Going in I got the feeling that everyone thought it could be a long couple of matches for the Irish. Not that the girls weren’t confident in their abilities, but this was a national team we were playing. So to state the obvious … the best players in the country, including the national freshman of the year from the University of Florida. Heck the team was ranked in the top 50 in the world … so not Olympic quality, but still a heck of a group of players. To put the team in perspective, associate head coach Robin Davis stated after the two matches that the team would be at least top 15 in the country if they played NCAA Division I volleyball in America.

When the matches started, however, it was quickly evident that the Irish were going to be able to hold their own against the talented squad. In the Friday match ND took a 2-1 lead before losing in five. On Saturday, the Irish went up 2-0 before losing in five again. In my personal opinion, the two sets on Saturday might have been the best I have ever seen ND play since I began covering the team before the 2012 season.

The day one score was 3-2 (25-19, 24-26, 22-25, 25-16, 15-9), while the day two score was 3-2 (16-25, 16-25, 25-19, 25-16, 15-9). In game one, junior honorable mention All-American Toni Alugbue led the team with 14 kills while hitting .429. She completed the double-double with 10 digs. Sammie Brown continued her impressive play with nine kills (.318 attack percentage) and 10 digs. Jeni Houser (9 kills, .529 attack percentage), Nicole Smith (9 kills) and Maggie Brindock (6 kills, .750 attack percentage) also performed well for the Irish. Andrea McHugh led ND with 19 digs. In match two Alugbue had 15 kills, Brown had nine kills and six digs, Smith had seven kills and McHugh had 24 digs.

ND played with confidence throughout the two matches, and moved well as a team. Despite being disappointed in the final result, the coaches and players all left the matches with excitement surrounding the 2013 season and the confidence that the team can compete with anyone. With that in mind, it is my opinion that the business aspect of the trip has been a complete success as the team is far more confident as a unit than they were upon arrival in Europe and has gained valuable match experience with the 2013 season just a few short months away.

Getting back to the trip … day two in Maribor saw an opportunity for the group to head into the city, which is more like a regular town and not a bustling tourist city like Prague and Vienna were. The highlight of the trip downtown was a chance to see what is supposedly the oldest grape vine in the world. As we weren’t interested in the little shops as much, Connor Brown and I set out in search of this vine. As we marched through stairwells and past old buildings our frustration in not finding the vine grew to a point where we were determined to find the vine. Finally! We hit pay dirt. A vine that was on a building from the 15th century, had railings surrounding it AND had cameras surrounding it for extra security. Confident and pleased that we found the oldest vine we snapped pictures as a local looked on in amusement. While taking pics though we did both note that we weren’t very impressed with how small the vine was and that we were both expecting a bit more. If you haven’t figured out where this story is going, later on in the day we found out in fact that wasn’t the oldest vine and that there was another vine, a much larger and more impressive vine, that claimed the title of the world’s oldest vine. Not sure if it’s Guinness approved, but I’m guessing no one will try to call them on it.

We ended our time in Maribor by touring a winery to learn about the wine making process and eat a delicious meal. The view at the top of the mountain where the winery was located was out of this world amazing, but the trip up the winding and steep roads in a 50-passenger bus brought back haunting memories of the ropes course the day before …

My next blog will hit on Venice and Milan … I would update everyone on Venice, but I have to get back to my important game of euchre, which is a Midwestern favorite and a game I’m learning for the second time, but forgot after the first time (BTW, I find it hilarious that everyone in the Midwest is stunned and confused when the rest of the country has never heard of the game) …

Until next time,

Buona sera! (A formal goodbye in Italian)

Russell Dorn
Media Relations – Notre Dame Volleyball

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