Buford, Handley get experience with USA Volleyball

The pair took part in their first USA Volleyball camp in Indianapolis last week.

by Carissa Polo

Two more players joined what has become a summer tradition for the Minnesota volleyball team last week. 

Senior setter Erica Handley and sophomore middle blocker Kayla Buford participated in the U.S. Collegiate National Team-Indianapolis program June 21-30.

“I was really excited [to be invited],” Handley said. “I’ve been in the USA Pipeline since I was little; and it’s exciting to get to do a collegiate one now.” 

The program is part of the USA Volleyball High Performance Pipeline, a program designed to help athletes from the youth volleyball stage to national team aspirations. 

The Indianapolis portion is one of three summer competitions that the U.S. Collegiate National Team hosts during the summer. Participants were chosen following the 2016 National Team Open Tryouts in February. Minnesota had the most representatives of any Division I team at the tryout with 12 athletes.

The Gophers are no strangers to competitive play during the summer. Juniors Alyssa Goehner and Molly Lohman will compete with the collegiate Tour of Europe team in Italy and Croatia beginning July 7. The two also represented Minnesota internationally last summer — Goehner on the Big Ten Foreign Tour and Lohman with the Collegiate National Team China Tour. 

Handley said she had participated in the camps before, but it was her first appearance on the college circuit. 

“I was kind of worried going in that they would just kind of let us play our game and not really teach us anything,” Handley said. “But getting there, I got way more feedback than I thought, which was awesome. 

The athletes ran drills and played practice games in the first few days of camp. Then the coaches split the athletes up into three teams: red, white and blue. The three teams played in competition for the last few days that led up to a championship for the teams in the Indianapolis tour. 

Buford was also a first-timer at the event. Her Team Blue swept Team Red on the final day of competition 3-0. Buford said there were many familiar faces at the camp, but only one other Big Ten player was on her team. 

“There were a lot of girls that I had known before from playing against them,” she said. “I got to meet so many girls from different schools from all across the country and that was a great experience.”

The Indianapolis camp is considered a second tryout for the U.S. Women’s National Team, and allows participants to get a feel of how the national program differs from collegiate competition, along with the skills they may utilize to pave a future path in the sport. 

“I learned that I’m always learning about the game of volleyball and flexibility and adversity,” Buford said. “Things aren’t always going to come out the way you want them to, but it’s about the mindset that you have to overcome what you’re dealt.”