Rising seniors Brooke Kranda (Westfield, Ill.) and Holly Toliver (Berrien Springs, Mich.) had some fantastic volleyball opportunities this summer that have them excited for the 2017 season to begin. Kranda took part in the Big Ten Foreign Tour, while Toliver was a part of USA Volleyball's Collegiate National Team.
BIG TEN VOLLEYBALL FOREIGN TOUR
Brooke Kranda was a part of the second Big Ten Volleyball Foreign Tour, which featured one student-athlete from each of the Conference's 14 schools. The squad travelled overseas to compete in Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy and Austria from June 17-26. She accepted her spot right after the Michigan State foreign tour of Italy in late May, which meant approximately three weeks of combined international travel for the 6-6 right side over the summer.
Kranda, who had a very strong Italian tour performance with the Spartans earlier in the summer, averaged 2.0 kills and 0.52 blocks per set and hit .250, leading the squad with 13 aces (0.57 per set) and averaging 0.91 digs per set as well.
In all, the Big Ten team played eight matches over their 12-day tour, going 4-3 with a 2-2 draw in a four-set match against the Italian Junior National Team in the finale.
It wasn't just volleyball 24/7 for the Tour participants -- they toured historic and cultural sites like the John Lennon Wall in the Czech Republic, a bike tour of Slovenia, and time on the waterways in Venice. The squad also volunteered at schools to teach young children the basics of volleyball and introduced themselves to lots of new (and much shorter!) young friends.
In addition to enjoying all that the tour had to offer in terms of cultural and historical exploration, the team also had an opportunity to learn more about one another -- gaining a new appreciation not only for the opponents they face on the other side of the net in the Big Ten, but also the amazing opportunity it is to compete in the best volleyball conference in the country.
"Being able to go on the Big Ten foreign tour was such an amazing experience -- I am so grateful for the opportunity," noted Kranda. "I loved being able to meet and connect with some of the girls that I am across the net from all season long, and it will definitely make it more fun to play them again this fall.
"The trip really gave me an insight to how professional players have to handle themselves and the demands that they are under on a daily basis," continued the Spartan senior. "There was less pressure on us, being a team that had not extensively played together and wasn't "supposed" to win against national teams. However, we still had to act like professionals and show up and perform regardless of how long we were on our feet sightseeing that morning. It was all a very rewarding experience and I am very thankful to everyone who gave me the opportunity to travel abroad and play to sport I love."
USA VOLLEYBALL COLLEGIATE NATIONAL TEAMS -- MINNEAPOLIS
Holly Toliver learned in late April that she had been selected for the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team, and would have the opportunity to train in conjunction with the USA Volleyball Girls National Championships. She was one of eight Big Ten athletes that would be in this pool, and she was thrilled for the opportunity.
The CNT-Minneapolis squad, which is part of USA Volleyball's High Performance pipeline and is considered a second tryout for the U.S. Women's National Team, trained from June 22-26 at the University of Minnesota. The athletes were then assigned to one of three 12-member teams and competed in a round-robin format at the Minneapolis Convention Center from June 27-30.
While the high-level training, exposure, and competition opportunities were alone a chance to better herself for her senior season, Toliver also understood that this training opportunity was a showcase for the younger athletes at the Girls National Championship event.
"It is an amazing experience," Toliver said of being viewed as a role model to the younger athletes. "When I was at junior nationals as a player, I remember watching these matches with the college girls and thinking that it was above what I could achieve. Now, I have a different view -- I look into the crowd and wonder which of them will be on that court and competing in the US Collegiate National Team program as college players. It's just awesome to have the opportunity to be a role model, and to compete at this high a level and encourage the younger girls to keep working hard. There is so much great volleyball ahead for them in college and in the programs like this."
Toliver, a part of Team Red in the round-robin competition, had an extremely strong performance -- she led her team in the final round-robin match with 12 kills on 19 swings without an error (.630), and in the final hit .430 with 15 kills, two blocks, and a pair of aces.
"This opportunity was unbelievably amazing," Toliver beamed. "I don't know how else to describe it. I have never had so much fun - the opportunity to play with all these amazing players like you do in college -- but here, everyone is striving for the opportunity to play for Team USA one day."