MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University volleyball team recently embarked on the trip of a lifetime, as the Mountaineers enjoyed a 12-day trip to Europe. In a trip made possible by the generosity of the program’s supporters, the team was able to compete and take in new cultures while abroad.
The Mountaineers played six matches throughout Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, returning to the U.S. with a 5-1 record. During that time the team went sightseeing in various cities, experienced new foods and took part in several recreational activities.
“I thought it was a fantastic trip for our players, staff and program,” coach Reed Sunahara said. “Thank you to Shane Lyons, our administration and all of our donors for making this happen. We experienced a lot over the course of our trip from a volleyball and a cultural standpoint. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.”
After departing Pittsburgh on Friday, May 12, the Mountaineers arrived in Milan on the morning of Saturday, May 13. The team immediately headed to practice at nearby Centro Pavisi, which is home to the Italian development team. WVU practiced and dined at the facility over the next three days.
Following their practice session, the team checked into its hotel before departing for Porta Sempione. The Mountaineers toured Porta Sempione via bicycle, stopping at the Arco della Pace, Sforza Castle and Simplon Park before heading to Piazza del Duomo for more sightseeing and their first Italian dinner. The team chose to return on Sunday for more sightseeing.
On Monday, May 14, West Virginia made the short trip to Lake Como. After a short walk through town, the team took the Funicolare from Como to Brunate at the top of the mountains, where the players explored the churches and cafes. The team traveled to Busto Arsizio that evening to take on Unet Yamamay Busto Arsizio for its first European match. Led by Payton Caffrey
’s 20 kill and Gianna Gotterba
’s 11 digs, WVU topped Busto in five sets.
“Being at the lookout was one of the best sights I've ever seen,” defensive specialist Gabrielle Cuckovich
said. “We spent a good amount of time there trying to capture the beauty, but the pictures don't do it justice.”
The team departed Milan the following day, arriving in Venice in early afternoon. The players experienced Ferrovia, the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. In addition, the Mountaineers purchased souvenirs at the city’s many shops, opting for leather goods, Venetian masks and Murano glass jewelry as well as pastries and gelato. Several players opted for a gondola ride on the Grand Canal before taking the train back to Galzignano Terme.
On Wednesday, May 17, the Mountaineers chose a morning of relaxation by the pool at Hotel Splendid at Galzignano Terme Spa & Golf Resort. Upon checkout, the team departed for Slovenia, stopping first for a meal at the Autogrill before arriving in the capital of Ljubljana. The players and staff were given a short time to tour the city, with some opting to take the tram up to Ljubljana Castle and others shopping and grabbing more gelato in town. Later that evening, WVU arrived at Hotel Arena in Maribor.
The following day, the Mountaineers hit the court at the Dras Center for a short serve and pass. They then took the ski lift up the Pohorje Mountains for lunch at Trikotna Jasa. The trip down was a bit quicker, as one by one, the players made their way down on the Alpine Slide – tiny cars on a track that wound its way down the mountainside. Many players chose to repeat the trip before heading back to Dras Center for a match against the Croatian National Team. Despite nine kills from Natania Levak
, the team fell to Croatia, 3-1. After the match, the squad took a gondola back up the mountain for a traditional Slovenia meal.
On Friday, May 19, the team spent the morning exploring the town of Maribor. Players shopped, stopped for gelato and enjoyed coffee in the town while several staff members viewed the Zametovk – a 400-yeard-old vine that classifies as the oldest in the world. Later that afternoon, Caffrey (17 kills) and Gotterba (13 digs) again led WVU to a 3-1 win over the Austrian National Team. Post-match, the two teams met to view the sunset at Doppler Winery on the outskirts of town. The Mountaineers enjoyed dinner at the winery and learned the winemaking process from Lena, who is a third generation female winemaker at just 16 years old.
West Virginia departed Maribor on Saturday morning for Lake Bled, Slovenia’s answer to Italy’s Lake Como. Upon arriving in town, the Mountaineers walked down to the dock for a boat ride. As motors are not allowed on Lake Bled, the team was rowed across the water to Bled Island. The Mountaineers trekked to the top of the island to view a pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Returning to town, the team sat down for a pregame meal that included kremsnite, a traditional crème cake. The squad then made the short trip to Skofja Loka, where it swept the Slovenian Junior National Team, 3-0.
“When we first arrived, my breath was taken away,” middle blocker Mia Swanegan
said. “The view was so stunning. The water was a pretty teal blue. The breeze was perfect and at the opposite end of the lake was a church with a stone bell tower.”
The Mountaineers departed for Croatia on Sunday, arriving in the resort town of Pula after clearing the border. Players and staff took the opportunity to relax by the pool or at the beach for most of the afternoon before heading into town that evening for dinner. The team stopped at the Arch of Sergii, the Temple of Augustus and Pula Arena before dinner.
On Monday, the team headed to Kremanjak-Prementura, a peninsula on the cape of Istria for cliff jumping. The Mountaineers plunged into the Adriatic Sea from various heights, with many exploring a nearby cave. The team also stopped in for ping-pong, swings and slide rides at a pub nestled underneath the foliage. Later that afternoon, the team explored the seaside town of Rovinj, spending some kuna (Croatian currency) and exploring the market. Following the short detour, WVU headed to Porec to face Levak’s younger sister. The elder Levak and Caffrey combined for 22 kills as the Mountaineers claimed a 3-1 win over OK Porec. The squad dined at a local restaurant owned by a former professional volleyball player following the match.
For their final day in the country, the Mountaineers headed to Levak’s hometown of Pazin. Under the tutelage of Levak’s uncle and his co-workers, the team went zip lining over the Pazincica River, overlooking Pazinska jama (Pazin cave) and Pazin Castle. After lunch in the area, the team walked to town, passing many of Levak’s friends and family as well as her home on the way to a pregame snack of gelato. That evening, WVU faced ZOK Pazin, a club team that Levak played with early in her career. Levak’s friends and family hosted the squad for an amazing Croatian dinner following the match. That night, the team traveled to Izula, Slovenia, to spend the night before departing for Marco Polo Aiport in Venice early Wednesday morning.
“The games were a great growth exercise for the team,” middle blocker Hanna Shreve said. “The matches introduced different styles of competition and tested the ability to refocus on a match after a day filled with other activities - a skill that I think comes only through repeated experience/practice. I thought it was especially interesting to see the various environments that European teams are accustomed to being in for practice and competitions. Personally, I was amazed to see the Hotel Dras in Maribor, Slovenia. It was a hotel with gyms and a weight room immediately connected to it! I can only imagine volleyball being popular enough to warrant such an establishment in America.”