STORRS, Connecticut, U.S.A. — For four full days after it ended, every time I walked up stairs or lifted my right arm, I was painfully reminded of my four days at volleyball camp at the University of Connecticut.
At this camp for middle and high school girls, participants could stay in the dorms or commute.
At the start of the camp everyone signed in, got their food card, room key, and T-shirt and lanyard to keep (yippee!). After dropping the luggage in my dorm room, it was off to our first practice in Guyer Gymnasium.
There we performed a series of fairly easy volleyball tests, such as passing, serving, and spiking, while coaches evaluated us and assigned us to teams based on our skill levels. Teams were numbered one to eight, with the best scoring girls in the eighth level. I, of course, was placed in level one. (Gimme a break, I’m new at this.)
Each full day there were three sessions held in either Guyer or Gampel Pavilion. At the first nighttime session, we met our own coach and all the coaches from the other teams. My team was called Kiss My Ace! An ace is a serve that hits the floor or a serve that the other team hits only once before it lands on the floor.
The food at UConn wasn’t terrible, but we basically lived on the snacks and candy we had brought with us (Thank you, Cheez-Its.) Once, we were allowed to order pizza from Dominoes. At one lunch, I left my sneakers at the table and was scolded because I was barefoot while getting some of my food. It’s a good thing, too because I was, after all, planning to stick my feet in the big food containers on the tables.
I was sweltering in the dorm room, which made it hard to fall asleep, but two fans on high directly in my face seemed to help. I slept on the tile floor the last two nights.
Nearly all of the sessions were spent on skills, scrimmaging, and doing the dreaded drills, which made me too sore to perform in the games that followed. I was so happy when the final days of camp came so we could finally start playing some actual games and I was free of drills.
My most graceful moment came when I was walking out of the cafeteria, looking backwards and talking to my friends. I forgot about a step stretching across three doors, and completely missed it. I sort of just dropped to the cement all of a sudden. Apparently that walking and talking at the same time thing is too complicated for me.
It stung, but mostly it was funny. For the rest of the week, the other girls would call out to me, “Whoa, watch out — there’s a step there!”
When the real game-playing started, our coach got a lot more… umm …competitive.
Everyone on my low-ranked team seemed to play 10 times better than they had in practice. It was like a whole different team. We played eight games and won three. Kiss My Ace! played all the way up the third level.
A particularly humiliating consequence of losing was that the winning team got to choose a punishment for the losers. It was funny to watch but definitely not fun to do. We made one team crawl around the entire gym on their hands and knees either barking or meowing. In retaliation, when we lost to them, they made us all do the crabwalk all the way around while yelling “Cockroach!” as loud as we could. I’m pretty sure they were still a little mad about the barking.
One evening, we did skits for each other. In my group, four of the eight girls laid on their backs and the rest sat on their stomachs and facing forward, kneeling on the ground. The girls kneeling covered their legs with a towel, so it looked like they had the legs of the girl they were sitting on. I was one of the girls on the ground, and I couldn’t really see the audience. Or breathe. We did an exercise skit, with one girl as the “instructor.” We did lots of strange-looking stretches, and the leg movements matched the arm motions. At the end, we did a pretzel (which cracked every vertebrae in my back) and then the can-can.
We thought some of the UConn women basketball players were going to be judging, but when we got to Gampel, the counselors were judging and the players were nowhere in sight.
Some of my friends and I were unsure about going to camp before signing up, until we heard that we would probably see some of the UConn women basketball players hanging around the campus. We were all desperately hoping to get an autograph or picture or just meet one of the players.
We particularly hoped to see Diana Taurasi, one of their best. I saw Taurasi in the computer room and weight room near the gym, but, alas, every time, I had no paper, pen, or camera.
Once when she walked out of the computer room and past me down the hall, my curiosity got the better of me and I ran in to see the title of the paper she was typing. I got lost in the excitement because I don’t remember what it said.
The next day, when we saw her in the weight room, about 10 of us asked if we could wait until Taurasi came out. After about 15 minutes, practice was about to start and one of the mean coaches made us go into the gym. When we checked again after practice, Taurasi was gone.
When camp ended, we left, our mission to meet the UConn players fruitless. There’s always next year.
Jen Plonski is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.