Bonding with new teammates, taking long bus trips, and playing lots of volleyball. While it may sound like a typical season for a college student-athlete, Stetson University sophomore setter Shannon Craighead enjoyed a similar experience while playing in Europe this past summer.
Craighead joined seven other high school and young college student-athletes and traveled to Pula, Croatia in July to participate in the 9th Annual European Global Challenge Tournament.
Having never been to Europe nor knowing any other members of her BIP-Continental squad had Craighead feeling a little anxious prior to embarking on the two-week trip, but joining a couple of her teammates on the flight to Europe helped her settle in.
Upon arriving in Croatia, Craighead was immediately awestruck by the beautiful scenery.
"Huge majestic mountains like the Rockies, beautiful shorelines and salty air like the beaches of Florida, narrow valleys lined with green hills just like you would find in Virginia, even the greatest of pictures could never do this beautiful land justice," Craighead wrote in her blog.
After arriving and spending one night in Croatia, the team took a charter bus to the nation of Montenegro to play two warm-up matches against their sister team, OK Galeb. Without the benefit of having a single practice, Craighead came across an unexpected difference in the volleyball itself just prior to the first match.
"The texture of it was really interesting, it felt like it would get stuck on you for an extra split second," Craighead said. "Also the stripes on it were not the same, so as a setter it had a different look than I was used to seeing. It was difficult at first. Later we took one of the balls from the gym and practiced with it at the hotel so that helped a lot."
After two days of scrimmaging and sight-seeing, the Bip-Con and OK Galeb teams traveled together back to Croatia for the international tournament. The 18-hour bus trip was spread over two days with an overnight stop in the town of Split to rest.
On the second day of the tournament Craighead encountered another bit of adversity - a nagging injury was limiting her ability to compete. As the only setter on the squad, and participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event, Craighead had a strong desire to continue to play. However, not knowing the true nature of the injury, she was concerned continuing to play would make the injury worse and negatively impact her volleyball season at Stetson.
"That (decision) was super hard, deciding between my pride and supporting my team, versus my future and my Stetson team," Craighead said. "I think a lot of the help on the decision came from my coach there. She said, 'If you continue to play now, I feel like you are going to regret it later.'"
Craighead decided to hold back on her playing time, and the team brought in a local girl who was already working at the tournament to be its setter.
During down times, Craighead said she got to know some of the girls from other teams and other countries. She said it was interesting that they knew so much about America, and how little she knew about them.
"They love Justin Bieber, yet I barely knew where Croatia was," Craighead said. "I was talking to one of the Slovenian girls one night and I asked what things they like about their country, and they said, 'Nothing really. It's boring.' Overall, the experience really opened my eyes to the rest of world. It may seem very different, but it's really the same people."
Now Craighead is back at Stetson, and a few weeks ago at Bethune-Cookman, she saw her first action in a Hatter uniform. Late in the third set Craighead served four straight points, including one ace, and picked up two digs in her first rally.
"It felt really good," Craighead said. "It was just nice to be able to make contributions out there on the court. I always try to do as much as I can behind the scenes and on the sidelines, but it is a whole different feeling when you are out there. It was awesome."
This weekend, Stetson (13-8, 5-2 A-Sun) welcomes Northern Kentucky (8-12, 3-5) and Lipscomb (12-6, 6-2) to the Edmunds Center for a pair of Atlantic Sun Conference matches. The Hatters host the Norse at 6 p.m. Friday and the Bisons at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Both games will be broadcast on HatterVision with Ryan Rouse calling the action.
Friday's contest will also be Stetson's annual Passionately Pink match where the Hatters will raise awareness for the Susan G. Koman Foundation and the fight against breast cancer. Everyone is encouraged to wear pink.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors (Stetson students, faculty, and staff are free with an ID). Live stats will be available through GoHatters.com.