Life Update!

Longggggggggggggg Read – sorry ‘bout it

Holy cow! It’s August already! I haven’t written a single blog post allllllllllll summer and so much has happened. I mean, wow what a summer.

For starters, I finished my season in Italy and it was such a great experience. I learned so much while I was there – posted a whole blog about it in fact – and had my first taste of international volleyball. After leaving Italy I was given the incredible opportunity to get a little bit of training in the USA gym in Anaheim, California! So a few days after getting back to the States, I flew out to CA and trained with the girls in the gym there. Ok not girls, women and WOW are they some incredible women! All striving to master their craft and all genuine people with unique personalities. They push one another, including me, to be better every day while at the same time learning and growing as athletes themselves. It’s been an incredible thing to be a part of.

About 3 weeks into my training in CA, USA took a roster of 14 girls around the globe for VNL, an international tournament in its introductory year. For seven weeks the girls toured the world, faced adversity, and kicked some serious ass. Meanwhile, I got the chance to stay in the gym and train with a new group of girls who would try and earn a roster spot on the Pan American Cup travel roster. For my Penn State peeps out there, you might’ve recognized players like Simone Lee and Aiyana Whitney who, like me, were training to earn a roster spot. Penn State Alum and Living Legend Badass Alisha Glass was also in the gym, this time wearing Red, White and Blue as a coach!

It was an intense seven weeks of training for us filled with highs, lows, frustrations, victories, lessons, and failures. But at the end of it all, fourteen of us were selected to travel to the Dominican Republic to represent USA at the Pan American Cup. If you didn’t know, Simone, Aiyana, and myself were all blessed with the opportunity to travel. So away we went. We flew to the Dominican Republic, played 6 well fought games, and came home with a Gold medal after a GRUELING, fiercely competitive, well fought match against a very strong Dominican team in a very LOUD Dominican gym.

Now, after a little vacation home, I’m back in the USA gym for one more training block before my professional season. Simone and Aiy will be there too! It’s another incredible opportunity to train and learn in a fiercely competitive gym. Then, towards the middle of September, USA will send another fourteen or so girls to World Championships where they will compete again for another Gold Medal.

Looking ahead! I’m headed back to Italy next season! I signed a contract with an A1 team in Brescia, Italy called Millennium Brescia volleyball club for my first FULL season in Italy! Whew intimidating to think about, but the adventure continues!

As far as the other girls from the Penn State class of 2018:

Ali Frantti: Finished out her first professional stint in Slovenia and signed another contract with a team in France for her first full season! Pomplemousse is headed to France!

Simone Lee: Will train in the USA gym some more this summer and then is headed to Turkey for her first full professional season! There she’ll play alongside Kelly Hunter from Nebraska and Annie Drews from Purdue.

Clare Powers: Recently got a job as a GA coaching volleyball in Texas while also pursuing her master’s in interdisciplinary studies with emphasizes in English, Sports Management, and Education! Plus she’s dating the cutest ginger around.

Heidi Thelen: Is beaching it up and also living in California where she works for the elite athletic equipment distributor, HyperIce.

Lainy Pierce: Is still working in PA and makes her way back to Penn State every once in awhile. Be sure to say hi if you ever get the chance to see her!

Abby Detering: Will also be playing professionally again next season! She’s headed to France too after kicking some major booty in her league in Austria. Rumor has it she played outside, opposite, and setter all in the short time she was there.

Nia Reed: Has one more season at Penn State and is just now starting preseason. Thoughts and prayers to you booboo…She’s most likely still tearing it up though like the walking tank she is.

Bryanna Weiskircher: Is also still kicking it at Penn State where she’ll be finishing out her final season as well. She too is starting preseason, RIP bro….. my heart goes out to you.

And that’s everyone! Look at us, we’re doing it! All off on our own grand adventures, living life. Hope everyone is doing so so great and enjoying their summers!

For the future, I plan on posting a little bit more frequently (no promises though). Dare I say even once a week. Gasp, I know I’ll believe it when I see it too… So, stay tuned! For those of you still with me after this lonngggg post thanks for hanging in there. Until next time!

We Are
USA
MIER
Among yoU
and all that jazz

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The Learning Curve

((Long Read))

Sooooooooooo I had a terrible day. Not just a bad day hitting or couldn’t figure out a block move. Nope, a complete-and-total-no-good-rotten-terrible day. Everything was bad. My serve, terrible. My eye work, slow. Block moves, late. Attacking, soft. Mentality, tried to bounce back buttttttt to no avail. It was just an all around terrible day. The good news is, I think, I THINK this is just a part of the learning curve.

My interpretation of the learning curve goes as such:

  • There’s a skill you acquire. That’s step one.
  • Step two is trying to use the new skill. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, you’re aware that you’re trying something new because your body can tell that it isn’t doing what it’s used to.
  • Step three is kind of getting the hang of it. You’re realizing “Oh this is when I should do that” or “That felt great! I figured it out!” Your body is slowly, but surely getting the hang of it.
  • Step four, and this is where I’m at now, is failing miserably at it once again. This is a critical step because it’s in this step that the skill becomes cemented. Your body knows the skill now and can tell when you’re NOT doing it. You get caught up more because you’re more aware when you aren’t doing it.
  • Step five is having figured out the skill and continuing to develop it through hours and hours of repetition and hard work
  • Finally, that’s it. There’s no end step because we can always continue to learn and grow… but I digress, that’s a topic for another day….

Step Four is an important part of the process. Being able to realize when you aren’t doing the skill you’re trying to improve is critical for the development of said skill. What’s even more important and will eventually lead to the fifth and final step of the learning curve is to stay locked in on building the new habit. Don’t get discouraged! Continue to work on the skill.

Applying this thought process to what happened to me today shows that I am working on every skill in my volleyball arsenal. Hitting: the speed is fast, the transition footwork is different, the arm swing needs to be crisper. Blocking: the eye work has to be disciplined, the footwork has to be explosive, my arms need to be locked in and over. Etc.

I could break down every single one of the skills that I’m working on, but you get the idea. EVERY aspect of my game is being deconstructed and reconstructed which means when I get to Step Four, nothing is going to go according to plan. It’s inevitable that I’m going to have a day like today where everything feels off. That’s because everything is off. The key is making sure I attack tomorrow and STOP COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHER PLAYERS. Everybody is at a different spot on the learning curve. We’re all trying to grow and improve our game.

So, what I’m going through right now is just as much a lesson in volleyball as it is a lesson in patience. Everything will come with time. The athlete I want to be won’t come to fruition overnight. Moving forward, I’ll be taking things step by step, staying patient, and continuing to work as hard as I possibly can everyday to get better. I’m right where I need to be. Let’s keep grinding.

To the Haleigh that first arrived in Italy,

Haleigh,

Benvenuto, you made it! First things first, take a deep breath. Traveling across the world can be stressful so I know you’re freaking out. Right now, what you’re doing seems like the biggest life change you’ve ever experienced. I mean, nobody speaks the same language as you, you’ve never played volleyball overseas before, you’re all by yourself, and everyone you know and love are thousands of miles away. It feels like you’re jumping off of an eighty-foot cliff right now but trust me this is just a small eight-inch step.

Unfortunately, this time around your visit in Italy is short. There was a chance you could’ve stayed up until the end of May, but you and your team missed the playoff by one or two points. That’s ok though, it’s a part of the process. What’s important is what you take from this experience and how much you get to grow as person.

While you’re here you are going to experience a lot. For starters, homesickness. You are all by yourself over here so there are days where you really miss home. Sometimes it isn’t even Colorado home. Some days you miss being at the Phyrst with your friends jamming out to “I Want You Back”. Sometimes you just really want a hug from bae or a lazy Sunday binge watching The Office together. Whatever the feeling is, it’s totally fine. There are ways you can shake it! Get coffee downtown, hang out with Chiara and DoDo, go to the beach, drink a whole bottle of wine… ok maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. Then there are days where no matter what you do you just miss home. When this is the case, call your parents. They always make time to talk to you and it’s crazy how much better you feel after talking with them. Homesickness sucks, but you’ll be fine.

Keep in mind, you weren’t even gone that long! It’s been two months. I know it may feel like an eternity because SOOOO much has changed, but you’re only here for a short short time so don’t waste it wallowing. Read your books on your patio, go sketch on the beach, get sushi with your friends, live and enjoy life here because it’s over before you know it.

Something else you should know, you’re not going to become fluent in Italian. No matter how hard you try, you are not going to pick up conversational Italian in two months. Not only that, but when you do try to speak Italian you are going to say something stupid. You will end up calling your libero a midget on accident, you’ll refer to your father as the pope, and instead of asking how old someone is you’ll ask them how many anuses they have. Such is learning a new language. The pronunciation and grammar are going to eat you alive, but it’s important that you keep trying! Better to make the mistake and fix it, then never try at all and learn nothing.

The most important thing you need to take from your experience here is this is life now: new adventures, new opportunities to learn and grow, new chances to get to know and love yourself more. Not only that, but this is just the beginning. Wherever this career takes you as a professional volleyball player, enjoy the journey and remember you are in control. You can keep going for as long as you want, you can quit whenever you want, you can go back to school, you can start coaching, you can keep playing until you’re 40 years old. Whatever you decide to do, do so whole heartedly. If you’re going to quit, make sure it isn’t because you had a bad day. You’re only really a failure when you stop trying to improve. If you’re going to keep playing, make sure you’re working as hard as you can. You know what that looks like. In the wise words of Ron Swanson, don’t half-ass a bunch of things whole-ass one thing. Make sure whatever you do in the future you whole-ass it.

So, Haleigh that just got to Italy, enjoy your adventure in Ravenna. It’s a beautiful city. You will cry when you see Dante’s tomb for the first time, you’ll cry when you say goodbye to the Adriatic Sea, you’ll cry when you see the Basilica di San Vitale. You will also laugh your ass off with Chiara and DoDo on multiple occasions, you’ll dance on table tops, and you’ll make memories you will never forget. Adventure is out there so enjoy this one.

The Mental Game

My roommate pointed out to me the other day that I am always thinking. Whether we’re sitting at the table eating, driving to lift, or just stretching after practice, she noticed there was always something on my mind. Now this trait has its highs and lows. I overthink a lot, but it’s easy for me to critically analyze any given situation. For me, thinking is a way of life. For all athletes, thinking is a huge part of the game.

In sport, there’s a time and a place for thinking, most people refer to it as their mental game. There are tons of sport psychology books on the subject. People pour a lot of research and resources into figuring out what makes the athletic mind tick. But the thing is, we are all very different. Our mental game is uniquely formatted to our own individual selves. The way LeBron James preps for a game is very different than how Foluke Akinradewo would prep. What’s important though, is that the mental prep is happening. My time at Penn State helped me to cultivate my own mental prep routine. It was done mostly through trial and error, but I eventually figured out what was necessary for me to get in the groove to be ready to play. What’s important now is making sure I’m following through with this routine.

This past week we played two games. One on the road and one at home. The road game was a beast of a trip. It took about 5 hours to get to the gym. The vans we took were tiny with very upright seats, so it isn’t the most comfortable form of travel. To pass the time I listened to music, watched the Italian landscape roll by (gorgeous btw), and watched a movie. It was a long drive. When we finally got to the gym we were early, so we ended up having to sit around and wait for game time.

Now, after being cooped up in a van all day I’m not going to deny I was grumpy. Every little thing was getting on my nerves. By the time we were warming up for the game, my mood hadn’t improved, and I had a tough time getting my muscles warm. Game time rolled around, and I played TERRIBLE. It only took me 5 points into the first set to realize, I wasn’t mentally there for that game. I hadn’t done a mental prep, I wasn’t focused or ready to compete and it was catching up with me. I managed to get somewhat locked into the game by the second set, but by then I was so concentrated on being mentally locked in I started overthinking. I worked as hard as I could physically, but my draw backs mentally took their toll.

The following Wednesday we had a home game. I was determined to be mentally focused and ready to play. A few hours before the match, I did the mental exercises that get me ready to play and put on my warm up playlist. We drove to the gym and I stayed focus all through warmups. Doing whatever I could to be ready to play. Game time rolled around and while this game had a bit of a rough start, it was much easier to find my groove and play my game. I was mentally and physically ready to play.

What this experience has taught me, is that there is never an occasion where I can just roll into a game. Just like I warm-up my muscles before a match, I need to warm-up my mind. There’s a level of mental focus required to be a successful and competitive athlete. I worked hard on creating a unique routine that allows me to be mentally locked-in to the game, I owe it to myself to be following it. I should be playing back highlight reels that get me excited to play the game I love. I need to listen to my pump-up playlist to get my adrenaline going. I absolutely need to make sure I know the scouting report. Concentrating on the little things before a match makes it easier to just go out and play.

Everyone is different, so their routine will be unique to them, nevertheless there’s no denying that mental prep is needed. Figure out what that means for you. Zac Efron said it best, ya gotta getcha head in the game.

If you’re feeling up to it, let me know what your mental routine is before you go out and conquer the world! I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to read your comments!

Healthy Habits

As athletes, we’re constantly reminded the importance of nutrition, hydration, sleep, etc. It’s ingrained into our lifestyle to try and be as healthy as we can to improve our performance. We’re lectured on calorie intake, when to eat, the importance of sugars, carbohydrates, and protein. We’re taught that it’s important to drink water every day and stay hydrated. Plus, we’re constantly reminded that sleep is the best way to recover faster. Through all this reminding, we begin to build this image of what it is we want to look like once all is said done. Soon fit, sexy, and strong athletes will look back at us in the mirror. From then on, it’ll just be about maintaining that physique. Sounds easy enough. News flash, it never is.

For myself, throughout this whole process of becoming beautiful and better lingering in the back of my mind is this tiny fear that if I stray from the path all is lost. When I slip up, I set myself too far back. That extra slice of cake or missed day at the gym is going to cost me what it is I want to see from myself. In these moments, it becomes all too easy to beat myself up. I get incredibly frustrated and feel like I’ll never achieve the body it is that I want and there’s no point in trying. News flash number two, I gotta chill out.

As I too strive to be the best athlete I can be, I’m learning that the best way to ensure that I’m adhering to my health habits is to cut myself a break. When I opt to eat a rice cake with Nutella on it instead of honey, I can’t go nuts over the extra 10g of sugar. If I miss going to the gym for a day, I shouldn’t mope around at home. Instead, I should stretch a little and set a reminder to get my butt there tomorrow. On the path to creating healthy habits I’m realizing there is no flawless journey. Everyone is going to slip up. The key is to allow the slip up to happen, forgive yourself, and improve.

Now, there’s a beautiful equilibrium in life where all things require some balance. In this instance I find myself balancing self-discipline and self-compassion. While I’m chasing healthy habits, I can’t cut myself too much of a break. I should, of course, be focused on what it is I want to achieve and be committed to the habits I want to form. I set goals for myself, both long term and short term. I do what I can to make it easier to achieve said goals. For example, I try to avoid buying junk food and sugary drinks. But, I also need to remember to be compassionate enough to realize that I’m only human and chocolate cake is too damn good to pass up. That’s ok. Healthy habits, like diet, sleep, and hydration, pair nicely with self-love. If I can focus enough on achieving my health goals while also loving myself throughout the entire process it becomes a lot easier to get to where I’m trying to go.

In all, whether you’re like me and want to build muscle mass or just want to start drinking more water daily, the fact that you have made a conscious decision to improve your life in a healthy way is a huge step. Go for it! But don’t get too upset as you work to develop this new routine. Building a habit comes with time and with time comes error. But the good news is, with error comes growth. So, work to build those habits. Set goals for yourself. Celebrate when you achieve them. Be patient with the journey and revel in it all, the slips-ups and the success. Such is life.

Also, today’s featured image is brought to you by me trying sushi for the first time. An excellent balance between what I perceive to be healthy and what is probably not the most healthy but could be worse.

 

Ciao Mi Amici,

Well I guess the cat is somewhat out of the bad. Hello from Italy everybody!!

Before I begin I wanted to very quickly explain my hiatus and why I haven’t been writing much… ok at all… When I started this blog, my intended goal was to share a post every week. I was super excited about it and had lots to share. I still do! But, as my “deadline” started approaching I found myself stressing over getting my blog done. I wanted to write the perfect post and make sure I was saying EXACTLY what I wanted to. I was freaking out hardcore about it. This, I soon discovered, was stupid.
I’ve been stressing about deadlines for pretty much my entire life and, if all goes according to plan, I’m going to stress about deadlines for a long long time after, what with grad school and everything. So why on Earth, when I’m not even in school, would I stress myself out about it now. My blog was supposed to be a way to share my life with people I care about. Not worry about if they got my post on time. So I made a decision, I won’t write anything until I feel like it. When I’m ready to write or have something I desperately need to share, I will. Until then, I don’t want to stress about it. I’ll write my thoughts and share my ideas on my own time because soon, sooner then I know, I’ll have to be writing for a deadline again. So here it goes!!

 

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to continue to play volleyball at the professional level in Ravenna, Italy with Olimipia Teodora Volleyball. It was an incredibly lucky circumstance that they needed a middle blocker and were willing to wait for me to be ready to come out to play.

 

Earlier this year I had to get some work done for an injury I had sustained during the last few months of season at Penn State so I wasn’t able to go and play volleyball right away like I had originally wanted. Instead, I had to consider my long term volleyball career and decided to take care of the injury ASAP and change up my original game plan. So I took two months off. Thankfully enough my trainers and coaches at Penn State were more than willing to help me recover and get back in to playing shape. ((Quick shout out to Scotty P (Scott Campbell), I’ll deny it if you tell him I said this, but I was very fortunate to have someone as good as him be willing to work with me and help me get back to where I needed to be. He’s good at what he does, there’s no denying it. But enough sentiment, Scott if you’re reading this don’t forget I still hate you and we’re not friends… ))

 

So I took those two months off, worked in the equipment room at Penn State and did physical therapy with Pippen. Then once I was ready and after a quick jaunt to Chicago to get my visa, I was off to Italy! Now, I am here. It’s been less than week and I’m already learning so much! My team has been very patient with me as I figure out drills and my flatmates, Chiara and Sofia, have been more than amazing. They help me practice my Italian, show me where things are in Ravenna, and are helping me get my bearings as a pro athlete. What’s more, when I first got here and had nothing at all they shared their food with me and helped me buy groceries without skipping a beat. They’ve been absolutely incredible and I am so lucky to have met them.

 

Volleyball wise, each day I’m feeling stronger. If any of you have experienced this, coming back from injury can be very very hard, both physically and mentally. But it’s great to be back in the gym. It’s definitely very different from playing in Penn State, ((if I ever finish writing South Gym Soldiers you’ll understand what I’m talking about)) but it’s still like any other work day. You go as hard as you can! Here, in Ravenna, it’s important to remember that quality can be better than quantity. So I try to do my best every single time I’m in. The funniest part, I’ll make some kind of stupid mistake and hear Russ in the back of my head chirping about how that can’t happen and I’ll see him making a note in his book. Some things never change.

 

While I’m here, I want to grow, I want to get better. I am never good enough and there are so many aspects of the game I can’t wait to improve on. For that reason, Ravenna is perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be to get me back to playing at 100%. The coaches are good, my setter is a baller, and every day I can’t wait to practice and get back into the gym. The future is bright if you’re willing to work for it. So I’ll keep my nose to the grindstone and do what I do best, make jokes and play volleyball. Until next time y’all. Adopo!

 

P.S. Ravenna has the most gorgeous library!! You bet your bottom dollar I’ll be hanging out there just about all the time. ANNNND it’s where Dante Alighieri was buried since his banishment from Florence prevented him from being buried in his hometown. The culture in my little town is amazing and I can’t wait to explore!!!

Here’s What’s Next

Much to my dismay, I have officially finished my Penn State undergraduate career. We actually just had our end of the year banquet a few weekends ago. It was great to see everyone and say my final thank you and goodbye to the boosters and the program. This obviously isn’t a forever-in-parting goodbye, you guys couldn’t keep me away from here if you tried. It was more of a see you soon. It has been an incredible four years, but it is time to take the next step. What exactly is that, you may ask. Well here’s what’s next:

Lucky enough for me I get to spend a little bit more time in Happy Valley (told ya you couldn’t keep me away)! I’ll be training, playing volleyball, working out, and working! I just recently got a job in the Rec Hall equipment room so if you’re ever in the neighborhood please feel free to come say hello. On top of volleyball and work life, I’m also working on some writing for grad school, the studying never stops.

Unfortunately, I do at some point have to leave and it’s looking like March 1st I’ll be headed to the Philippines! I just recently negotiated a contract with a team over there so it’s just about official! I’m looking to sign sometime this week! I’m very excited and incredibly blessed to have an opportunity like this and I couldn’t have done it without the efforts of my agency, Top Volley. I am incredibly fortunate to have people in my life that can help me navigate the professional world of volelyball. Them knowing what they’re doing is such a blessing because I – like most people in life – don’t. ((Learning though!))
I’ll be in the Philippines from March until about mid-June. Then I’ll be back in the states gearing up for the next season! I’m very excited for what the future holds and can’t wait to see what adventures I’ll be going on. But it’s not just me that’s taking grand new steps. We had seven other great girls and athletes graduate this past semester who are all moving on to their next chapter, so here’s what they’re up to!

 

Clare is back in California for now living it up with her big beautiful fam! Rumor has it she’s picked up a coaching gig for a high school men’s team. She also graduated with a degree in print journalism and is a fantastic writer so I’m sure we’ll see her writing for Sports Illustrated, Cosmo, or The New York Times here very soon.

Heidi is temporarily waiting to put her angel wings on, unless Victoria’s Secret wants to give her a sponsorship while she’s overseas because she’s looking at going pro! She recently signed with an agent and is looking to make her way over there very soon.

If you hadn’t heard at the banquet, our own Abby D. got a job in Austria!!! She gets to pursue volleyball overseas now as well and just recently left to start her adventure!

Simone left for Italy about a week ago and is going to play for one of the premier leagues over there! It’s incredibly exciting and a great opportunity for her and I know she’s thrilled! Wishing her the best of luck!

Ali is also looking to play overseas and has had an offer or two come her way. Just like most Penn State grads, her future is bright and she’s definitely going to play volleyball for as long as she can!

Jen is still around in Happy Valley finishing out her undergraduate career. Lucky enough she’s only taking 15 credits this semester not 21, so she’s got smooth sailing up ahead. Once she’s done here she’s looking at grad school and a potential research gig in Manhattan over the summer!

Lainy just recently accepted a job offer in Philly!! Look at her joining the real world like a grown up. Her little brother plays for the men’s team here though, so she’ll be back visiting Happy Valley soon!

Nia didn’t technically graduate because of her redshirt but she’s a part of our class so she deserves an update too. She’s going into her last year at Penn State and naturally living her best life. She’ll train in the spring, have camps in the summer, and go into her final season as a Nittany Lion this fall.

Bryanna also didn’t graduate and has a redshirt year too, but she’s definitely living her best life. She’s taking maybe 15 credits this semester (if that) and next semester only taking one class. It’s called thriving people.

 

So here we are. Graduated and ready to take on the world. Penn State has shaped us and given us the tools necessary to do big things. While we’re out in the real world, I hope our actions reflect those of mature and well-rounded Penn State graduates. We can’t wait to go out and explore the world and enjoy new adventures. So here’s to the next big thing people, cheers!

 

|| Be sure to come back next week for my blog post on what it’s like to play for Russ Rose entitled South Gym Soldiers. Xoxo ||