BLOG: Sara Rishell With Collegiate National Team

Read Sara Rishell's blog while she competes with the U.S. Collegiate National Team this week.

June 24, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Sara Rishell, a member of the UAB volleyball team, will compete with the U.S. Collegiate National Team program this week in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Smithsburg, Md. native is already in Minnesota to begin the training portion of the program. She and the 35 other athletes selected began training on June 22 before being divided into three equal teams.

June 22

Today went by pretty fast. Once I landed and a few other girls arrived, we went to the dorm and checked in. We got some of our practice gear and went to our rooms until a meeting at 4:30. The dorms are...not of the highest quality. I do not have a roommate and am anxiously awaiting getting to sleep on a Hilton mattress. We had a three-hour practice where we played split court doubles.  It was pretty intense, but I thought I held my own offensively and defensively.  Sand definitely helped in that area!  After practice we had an overall team meeting where we talked about what the coaches are really looking for.  I definitely agreed with some of the tactics and am eager to share that with the UAB team.  Sweet dreams from Minnesota.

June 23

Well this morning was another three-hour practice where we worked on aggressive serving and the liberos, OH, and RS worked on a solid serve receive. We did a little work with middles and setters, but not much. We finished around 12 and went back to the dorms for lunch. We had another session at 3:00 where we worked on defense. I got to play a little right side, which worked out pretty well. I got my blocking mechanics down (which were rusty at first) and went after it in a wash drill to end the practice. We have a team function tonight, probably some get-to-know-you games? I am not sure. The good thing is that all of my gear fits and is long enough (haha)! After tomorrow's two practices we will have the teams that we will be playing on for the rest of the time here.  That is all I have for now.  Peace out from the Twin Cities.

June 24

This morning was the standard breakfast at 7:45 AM and then off to the courts at 8:30.  We have to walk from our dorm to the campus rec center.  This walk isn’t just around the corner—we venture through a lot of different staircases until we finally reach the gym.  Today, there were a lot of groans as we climbed the many sets of stairs, but luckily the groans didn’t go unnoticed.  When we were all laced up and ready to warm up, the coaches called us in a huddle and told us that they knew we were sore and as a treat, we got to give each other ball massages.  Basically, you take a volleyball and rub it all over someone’s back.  It doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, this morning it was heavenly.  (I suggest if you do not know what a ball massage is, get a volleyball and try it out).  This morning’s session was good all around.  We split up into teams of 6 and played a lot of different mini games.  The good thing about playing with 6 people is that I get to play in the back row, which is pretty uncommon for a middle hitter.  After practice, we came back to the dorm to eat lunch, but we went right back to practice at 3.  Normally, we practice from 3-6, but today it was 3-5 due to freshmen orientation.  Basically, there were about 200 students coming to eat in our cafeteria, so we ended practice early to get there before the crowd.  In this second session, we worked on defense and played a lot of mini games.  There is an older coach here named Bill, and he reminds me a lot of Hal (Kerry, UAB Indoor head coach’s husband that recently passed away from cancer.)  Just about every practice, he stops what we are doing and tells us a really long volleyball story.  Although they are long, they are usually pretty interesting.  There is no telling what the story is going to be about.  The girls on my UAB team always talked about Hal’s stories and how he would sometimes stop practice and explain something that took up a pretty good chuck of time.  However, both Bill and Hal are so respected, that you have to just let them talk.  Today, after listening to a story, he looked at all of us and said, “Alright well I know we have to go to beat the crowds in the cafeteria so you all can eat.  That’s what we do.  We win in here, and we win in the cafeteria!”  It may have been one of those, “had to be there moments,” but the entire gym erupted with laughter.  So yes mom, I am having some fun.

Tonight the coach’s will have a draft and pick teams for the rest of the tournament.  Tomorrow morning we will practice with out team and then in the afternoon have scrimmages.  It may not seem like a lot, but it is always amazing to get to chant “USA on 3” at the end of every practice.  Mini-Apple over and out.

June 25

“Out Team, Out Work, Out Play”

Today we practiced with our teams that we were split up into.  I am on “Team White” with two great coaches, Linda and Jay.  Linda actually reminds me a lot of my Aunt Peg, so I think we are going to have a really good time.  Linda and Jay brought us into the huddle and said, “We picked this team because of the people.  You guys are all great players, but you are also great people, and we, as coaches, want great people.”  At this point I knew that I was on the right team.  “Out Team, Out Work, Out Play” is our team motto.  In everything that we do, we will out team the other team, meaning that we work as a single unit and we work to make the person beside us better.  In everything we do we will out work the other team.  In everything we do, we will out play the other team.  The 12 athletes that we have, including myself, have completely bought into this concept and we are working together towards the same goal.  We all want to be on top and we are all willing to do what it takes to get there.  As our coach Jay put it, “You guys are all striving for the same goal, and on Monday, we are all going to have gold medals.”  We scrimmaged other teams in the afternoon session and I have come to find out that this experience is more than just getting physically better and physically stronger.  I have been put on a team where everyone, including the coaches, is giving everything they have to make each other better.  We have all bought into the concept of “Out Team, Out Work, Out Play.”  I am very excited to go into battle with my new teammates and conquer whatever team we may face.  Sweet dreams from Gopher country.

June 26

So today was transition day and I'm finally laying down in a hilton hotel. My team had a great practice this morning and our coaches rewarded us with an evening at the Mall of America. Naturally, I sent my family and friends tons of pictures from the inside. Funny thing is, we didn't really get that much accomplished. My teammates and I all wore our USA volleyball jackets to the mall and I realized how much we are looked up to (literally and figuratively.) We were probably able to go about 20 yards before we were stopped and asked to take pictures with younger girls and sign autographs. It is amazing how three letters on your back can inspire so many people. Today was just a short lens into reality. Three letters can cause an entire restaurant to chant when you walk in, can cause people to stop and take pictures of you (not just because you have really long legs,) and can make you feel so honored to be wearing them on your back. I am so honored to be wearing "USA" on my back and am so blessed to be able to compete for USA Volleyball. Sweet dreams from a very comfy Hilton bed.

June 27

Today we finally had practice in the convention center. Now, I haven't been in a convention center in a long time, but being there really made me appreciate my parents. My parents have spent so many hours in convention centers watching me play. I am so thankful for everything that they have done for me, and all the sacrifices they have made for me to give me every opportunity I could have ever wanted. With that said, it was amazing to see the convention center packed with athletes playing, moms cheering, and dad's videotaping. The only difference between when I was playing and now is that the clips are being taped on iPads and tablets instead of actual video cameras. After our practice, we took more pictures with random club teams and signed autographs. I am so blessed to have this opportunity.  Tomorrow is game day, and I am so ready to compete. Hopefully the next time I write I will have few battle scars and a win under my belt.  Go USA Team White!

To anyone that would like to watch, we are playing at 4 central time at the following link:

June 28

"Just another game"

When I was a senior in high school, our team was very good in basketball. I remember being really nervous before a game against Liberty, a bigger school who we weren't supposed to beat, and our assistant coach Brooke looked at me and said, "Why are you nervous? It's just another game." I have taken this quote with me to every game that I have ever been nervous for. Today was finally game day. We woke up early for a light practice to prepare for the afternoon game. Throughout the day, I really didn't find myself to be nervous. My legs were a little tired, nothing out of the ordinary, so dad, don't worry. While we were warming up for the game, it kind of hit me. I was wearing a USA uniform playing in front of a good amount of people. I got a little anxious, but then I remembered, it's just another game. I've been playing volleyball for a long time and have been in countless amounts of matches, there is really no reason to be nervous. It's just another game. My teammates and I battled for every single ball. We conquered the first game and fell in the second. However, no matter the deficit in the score, we fought with tenacity and played hard for every point. The game ended up going to 5 sets where we fell short 16-18. Jay, one of our coaches, said that just because the score wasn't the way we wanted it to be, didn't mean we weren't successful. Sure, we could have done some things differently and improved in some areas, but overall, we were successful. I can assure you that myself and teammates included are ready to attack tomorrow and come out with a win. Thank you to all of those that watched me and my team play tonight. I am feeling the love from my Maryland and Alabama families. Goodnight from the land of 10,000 lakes.

June 29

Protect the Duck

Today was another battle with team Red. The match went all the way to 5 sets again, and like yesterday, we fell short. Like I said in an earlier post, we have these two older men with us that are helping out with the teams. Mike Hebert, legendary volleyball coach, is one of these men. Mike was on our bench for today's game and before the game started, he came in the middle of the huddle with some helpful advice. My teammates and I were just grooving in the huddle when Mike came up with a little surprise. He said, "Now listen up. Do you guys want to know what the key to winning this game is?" We all responded excitedly with "yes!" He held out cupped hands and said, "I have it right here in my hands." When he opened up his hands, he revealed a small rubber duck holding a USA volleyball. We all erupted with laughter because it was not what we expected at all. My dad will probably get a kick out of this because he knows that I really love ducks.  The key to winning isn't always hitting the ball as hard as you can or having tough serves and a solid serve relieve. The key to winning is staying calm and having fun. We shouldn't be nervous or anxious while we are playing, we need to be smooth and relaxed.  Mike also said that we need to protect the duck no matter what. Someone on the sidelines always needs to hold it and keep track of it. This, I considered to be a symbol of teamwork. No matter what, we need to support our teammates. If a hitter goes up and swings aggressively and gets blocked straight into the ground, at least they went after it. We, as teammates, need to help her know that we are 100% behind her no matter what attack she may hit.

My team and I are playing tomorrow at 10 am and we are very ready to get a win! Thank you to all that have been following! Go team white!!!

June 30

My two coaches, Jay and Linda, expressed how they felt like our team had had an entire season compressed into 10 days.  In just 10 day, 12 athletes from different colleges came together as a single unit and competed as if they had been together for an entire season.  Although this seems rare, if you think about it, it really isn’t.  Every person on my team was willing to give everything they had for the same purpose.  Although we did not get the results we were expecting, we were still successful in the process and journey that we endured.  While we were training, our team got together and talked about the mental side of the game.  We watched a Ted Talk called, “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”  In this video, the speaker emphasized that we need to reverse the formula for success.  Most people live their lives with the idea that if you work hard, you will be successful.  When you are successful, you will be happy.  However, in this formula, people are never really happy.  We are constantly raising the bar for ourselves and are never satisfied in the “now.”  If we get a job, we are then looking for the next level where we can earn more money and responsibilities.  However, if we switch the formula, we can always be happy.  Success does not determine happiness; happiness determines success.  If you are a happy person, you will work harder, enjoy what you are doing, and in that, you will be successful.  I would highly suggest everyone reading this to take the time to watch this short video because it is definitely worth watching.  Of all of the things I am taking away from this experience, I truly treasure the information I learned in this video.

I have a lot to take away from this experience, and I cannot thank my coach Kerry Messersmith enough for providing me with this opportunity.  I am looking forward to sharing what I learned with my teammates at UAB and hopefully we can use it to come together and be a great team.  I am very fortunate for all of the support that I have had throughout this opportunity.  I greatly appreciate all that have followed and supported me throughout this process.  I am honored to be a part of USA Volleyball.  God Bless - Sara

Rishell will be writing a blog during her time with the CNT program and UAB fans can follow along with her here each day on as well as on Twitter (@UABathletics and @UAB_VB).