Shame on anyone who thinks a mother would fly across the Atlantic Ocean just to watch her daughter break a record.
It was perfect timing and a wish to spend time with her daughter that will allow Gerda DeDecker to witness Gophers senior outside hitter Katrien DeDecker breaking the school and Big Ten record for career kills.
DeDecker needs just nine kills to break former Minnesota player Andrea Gonzalez’s record of 2,140, a feat she will almost certainly accomplish tonight at the Sports Pavilion against Michigan.
Gerda arrived in Minneapolis on Oct. 28 from Bredene, Belgium, where Katrien is from, and she’s leaving Saturday. It’s the first time Katrien has been able to see her family during the school year (except when she went home for Christmas break) since she came here four years ago.
The exact time of the trip wasn’t determined until April, when the volleyball schedule was released and showed two straight weeks of home matches — the perfect time for Gerda to stay with Katrien and watch her play. But this year’s trip had been in the planning stages since Katrien’s freshman year.
So she and Gerda can be excused for feeling a little indignant that some people think Gerda traveled thousands of miles merely to watch her daughter change a statistic.
“That’s not the case,” DeDecker said. “It’s going to be special for her to be here, but it’s a nice coincidence.”
She also pointed out that individual stats aren’t followed as closely in Belgium as they are here, so neither her nor her mother have gotten too excited about it.
As DeDecker draws closer to the record, she professes not to give it much thought, preferring instead to concentrate on the team’s performance and its goal of making the NCAA tournament. The Gophers’ year thus far has made it much easier for DeDecker to forget about individual statistics. Minnesota is 19-7 overall, 10-3 in the Big Ten, and is coming off a three-game sweep of No. 13 Wisconsin on Wednesday night.
So what matters to DeDecker is not that her mother will be here for the record, but that she’s simply here. Because of class and volleyball, Katrien has been busier than she’d like for her mother’s visit but said it’s nice just having her around.
“She came over here just to be with me,” she said. “She knew I didn’t have much time to go out. Her main thing was just to be with me and watch me play volleyball, and enjoy our time together. She’s staying at my apartment, too, so that helps out a lot.”
The experience has been rewarding for Gerda as well. She came to America with Katrien’s 16-year-old brother, Dick, who was on a one-week vacation from his high school. He flew back to Belgium on Sunday, shortly after the three of them spent the day at the Mall of America. In her short time here, Gerda has been very well received.
“It’s great to meet everyone,” she said before Wednesday’s match against Wisconsin, and just after having dinner with the parents of Gophers junior Sarah Pearman. “Of course, I knew a lot about them from Katrien writing us and also by phone calls. To be here is special, very special. You can see she’s very loved over here. It’s like a great family.”
In Belgium, Gerda, a secretary who works at the Bredene city hall, regularly attended Katrien’s matches. But over the last four years, she has only seen her play on the videotapes Katrien sends her.
Members of the DeDecker family aren’t done crossing the Atlantic. Katrien’s father, Thierry, will arrive in Minneapolis on Nov. 22 to stay for a month. Thierry, a physical education teacher and volleyball coach in Bredene, will fly to Minnesota’s last two matches at Ohio State and Penn State, and will see the Gophers’ postseason, most likely the NCAA tournament. Thierry and Katrien will also go to the final four in Cleveland in December.
“My dad always helped me out,” she said. “He always went to all the games that I had. Even when I had another coach, he always came to the games and helped me. He’s been my personal coach.”
DeDecker feels lucky that she’ll have at least one member of her immediate family with her for six out of eight weeks, all watching some of the greatest moments of her career.
One of those moments will probably occur tonight. Although the record is something Katrien has said she will look back on with pride, Katrien and her mom sound a lot alike when describing what the moment will actually be like.
“That wasn’t the reason I came here,” she said. “Of course, it’s special, but the most important thing to me is to be with her and see everything she writes about.”