Interview: Floortje Meijners (in collaboration Volleyrosa.net)

1st part: FLOORTJE FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE PRESENT (Sports and Private Life)

Can you tell us something about your life, your family and your childhood in the Netherlands?

I was born in Oldenzaal, in the east of Holland, a place near Enschede. I went to a primary school in Oldenzaal from age four until eleven. From age eleven to eighteen, I went to a secondary school, also in Oldenzaal. I lived with my parents until last year. In August, my whole life changed. I did the same things as before but my environment was changing. I went to Amsterdam! I went to the club HCCNet Martinus Amstelveen, so another team. Second, I lived with a teammate, and not with my parents and brother. Third, I changed my school. I have chosen a course and I go through the trainings to the university to study Bedrijfswetenschappen, in the direction of Economics. I can say now, that Im very happy with my choice!

How, when and why did you start playing volleyball?

Ehm, my parents both played volleyball. And in my youth, we played it all the time on the street. When I was seven, me and my neighbor friends wanted to play volleyball. But the problem was that it was only possible until we reach the age of nine. So we were training and playing on our own hihi. So, when I was nine, I started playing at a volleyball club in Oldenzaal, called Arke-Pollux.

Who had the biggest influence in your volleyball career?

I think, in the first place, its my self. It may sound strange, but I think theres nothing without your own motivation! But my parents were also very important influences. They helped me all the time. And my trainers were very important all the time especially Avital Selinger. Im sure he is the best trainer Ive ever had. He knows a lot about volleyball and he gives me the opportunity to learn a lot.

You started playing in your national team early, at only 17. Do you want to tell us something about that experience maybe telling us the most striking moments of your adventure in national team?

I will, at age seventeen, I was part of the team with a tournament in Almelo. This place is near Oldenzaal so that was doubly special. In January, I became eighteen and that summer was the first summer I played with national senior team. Years before that, I played in the Youth national team, so Ive had a little bit of experience with national teams. But there is so much difference between being an old and experienced player and a young player. Both have difficulties, but I think you can learn from both experiences. But the phase I was and am where I am now is looking up to my other teammates and all the time, being surprised of the level of play. But on the tournaments this summer, I was also very surprised about the other teams especially the height. If there was a moment that I could attack one or maybe two balls when I came in the court I didnt now what to do anymore. Its so wonderful how some players jump, attack, have control. I look forward to this summer playing against the best teams of the world.

The most striking moments are the moments that we played against such good teams such as Russia, China, Brazil, Cuba and Italy. It was and still is special to see them playing.

Last summer you were selected to play in Martinus Amstelveen, with all the best Dutch players and this season you won the national league and the cup. Would you like to share with us your emotions and impressions about this winning season?

Ehm, last season was not with all the best Dutch players of the Netherlands because 6 players of the national team stayed outside the country (Japan, Italy, Germany and Spain). It was wonderful that we won the national league and the cup. Most expectations from the people in Holland came true but it is difficult, because everybody has a high level of expectation. So, not all the time you can play at your best. But one thing was for sure, we prepared and played every match, it doesnt matter against which team, for more than 100 percent. So that is a point Avital told us, it doesnt matter if its a training, the first match of the competition, the last match of the competition or the final of the cup, he said; every day is important, not less or more than another day. And that is the reason why we are learning a lot and growing as a team! But if I look back at last season, I feel happy. I didnt play every match, so sometimes I was a little bit frustrated, but I accept and understand Avitals choice. And I was and am happy with my choice of continuing to study, because school was a big help for me during those moments.

2nd part: FLOORTJE’S ORANGE SUMMER

What are the advantages / disadvantages of playing with most of your teammates in the Dutch Team in the same club team you are playing for now?

I think the advantages exceed the disadvantages. We train and play matches with each other, so we know each other better and better. We can learn a lot from each other. And we all have the same target and you can reach more goals with the team than being on your own.
One disadvantage is that we are with each other for the whole year. Sometimes I feel happy when we had a couple of days without training and we didnt see each other for that period.

The Boris Yeltsin Cup, the Grand Prix and then, finally the World Championships… a long and hard summer for your national team… how do you approach this new adventure?

We started with our training on the 8th of May. And a big part of the team know each other for years. This summer is not different from other summers. Last summer, it was very intense, now, we have between all the matches and tournaments also 2 weeks of nothing. So I think that this is a good motivation for everyone. And we just go for it, good preparation and go for 200 percent.

Avital Selinger is your coach in the club and in the national, how did he influence you to improve your game?

He is a man who is a perfectionist. So, on a technical scale, he has a big influence on all the girls. And mentally also, he knows what we need and say it at the right moment. Every time when he gives me an advice, most of the time a technical one, I see it as an advantage. And also, I think every time it can be better. So Im not easily satisfied, Im talking about myself. This is approximately in line with the perfectionism of Avital. But if its your first time, your own motivation, drive and spirit is the most important thing and after that the trainer has the big influence.

Your national team is young but already competitive, which is the starting point of your team in view of the World Championships in Japan?

Our starting point is being a team. We have to miss Francien Huurman this summer. She is a wonderful and important player so it is a change for everyone. So, because of that, it is important that we are a team and replace her position as good as possible. I have trust in it, so after that we have to train and play matches a lot so that we are going to grow as not only as individuals but also as a team.

Have you got any role model (a player which you look up to)?

I think a lot of players are good; I dont have one special role player. I have respect for people who are not so tall, but have such a good ball handling. But also players who have a specialty like attacking hard and high, I like to see them playing.

 

3rd part: FLOORTJE’S FUTURE PROJECT

What are your main targets for your career in the future?

The main target for me is to maximize everything. And with it, I mean not only in volleyball, but also in my school. Until now, I try to combine both, because I like them both and they are important in my life. And then I have my targets inside volleyball and inside my study; in Volleyball, to qualify for the Olympics Games. Being there, that would be wonderful!

If you were to choose another position to play on the Dutch team, what position would it be?

Ehm, before my injury of four weeks ago, I played on the outside, because Chaine Staelens also had an injury. My dream is to play on that position. Because on the diagonal it is less complex and on the outside you can pass. I would like to learn that so that would be the position I choose. And last year, I played a little, on two matches as middle. I prefer the attacking on the middle, but blockingmmmit is difficult.

Which aspects of your game (skills, attitude, etc.) that you want to improve more and why?

I really want to try to improve everything. Reception, defense and Reaction are the things I want to develop but also attacking, serving, and setting. So, I want to improve everything especially my reception, defense and reaction because those three skills are my weakest points.

Have you ever considered the possibility of playing in Italy? Do you prefer any team in particular?

I dont know how it is like to play as an outsider in Italy, but whenever I hear the experiences from Dutch people who have played in Italy, they are most of the time very positive. So I think it would be a wonderful experience. The level is very high. Theres a big difference if you compare with the Dutch competition. Ehm, last year we played against Chieri with HCCnet Martinus. So I only know that team a little bit. I cannot give my opinion, because I cant compare with other Italian teams.

Imagine you can make a wish for the future… which one would you choose?

Poeh, there are a lot things that I would like to wish for but the most important is that people in my environment are happy and healthy!

 

4th part: FLOORTJE OFF THE COURT

Do you have any pre-game habits/superstitions?

Ehm no, I really dont believe in superstitions. So I prepare myself before every match, but there are no special things I do every time.

There is one thing that is very important for me and my performance, the music before and during the warming-up and match!! Sometimes the sound is so bad in the sport hall. And sometimes there is perfect music and then it has a big influence on me.

Have you got any hobby in your free time?

I like studying, I like meeting friends and family, I like shopping (especially in Amsterdam) and I like going out very much!

Is there any future project, a part from volleyball, which you want to share with us?

I dont like looking forward. I will just see everything as it happens. For volleyball, I want to get the best out of it. And with my studies, its also the same. There may be a moment that I have to make a choice in a couple of yearsbut we will see.

What has been your most memorable traveling experience with the national team?

Last summer the World Grand Prix, the qualification tournaments for the World Championship and for the Grand Prix. But also the European Championship. They are all very impressive tournaments for me, because it was the first season I was selected for the senior national team. And I dont have one most memorable traveling experience.

Who are you closest to in the Dutch team and why?

I like everybody in our team. And it is a special subject in our team, because everyone likes each other. I like Caroline Wensink the most, because of her mentality, and Carlijn Jans, she was my teammate in the youth national team.

Thanks Floortje for taking the time to to allow us this insight into your life on and off the court.
From all at Volleypics and also to Volleyrosa.net for their help with interview.

Interview: Kasia Skowronska

   

The following is an interview I made with Kasia Skowronska at the 2004 Volleymasters.

Volleypics

Kasia:

Kasia thanks so much for meeting me and to have a little chat about you and volleyball.
No problem.  But my english is very bad.  So forgive me.
V-pics Quite the opposite, I think your english is very good and I can say for sure it is 100 times better than my Polish. 
V-Pics Kasia tell me how did you get interested in playing volleyball in the first place?
Kasia My older brother played volleyball.
V-Pics Did he play with a club?
Kasia He did yes and he also played with the national team in the Juniors. I said I must play this sport and so that is how I started. He was injured one day and so he stopped playing.
V-Pics Was it a bad injury?
Kasia Yes and this caused him to stop playing then.
V-Pics Is he older or younger than you?
Kasia He is four years older than me.
V-Pics Have you other brothers and sisters?
Kasia Yes I have two brothers older than me.
V-Pics Do you have any sisters?
Kasia No, no sisters. I am the only one.
V-Pics You poor thing Kate, no sisters Aw! What age were you when you started playing?
Kasia I was about fourteen or fifteen year old. I played in a club. After about two years I went to another club called SMS who had players who were playing on the National team.
V-Pics How long before you played then with the national team?
Kasia I played for two years there and then played for a few monts on the Cadet team, then shortly after i went to the Junior national team. I played the next year in a club only and the following year I played in the national team.
V-Pics Have you always played in the middle position Kate?
Kasia No, I started on the outside attack on the left side. The coach then said I have power and am tall so I should play in the centre.
V-Pics And would you like to play as a wing hitter now?
Kasia No I am happy in the middle and sometimes I play opposite and I am happy doing that.
V-Pics Have you travelled to many countries?
Kasia I was here in Montreux before, but I did not remember it as I was younger and I was here with the national junior team to watch the tournament. I liked to watch Cuba with USA.
V-Pics What players have you seen that you said “I think these are great players”?
Kasia Oh I think about two years ago I watched Elizaveta Tichtchenko in my position and said she is perfect. I think she is great. Also Rui Rui from China. She is also great.
We then spoke about how RuiRui was injured at that time.
V-Pics They are not sure if she will be back for the Olympics are they.
Kasia No they are not sure as I think it is a bad injury to her leg, maybe broken and it may take some time to get her playing again. She is a great player and China may miss her.
V-pics Ok Kate if you were to pick the best six players for to make one team who would they be?
Kasia Oh! That is a good question. Haha! Ohhhh! Ok I think my two centres would be Tichtenko and RuiRui. I think maybe Feng Kun is a very good setter from China. I think Glinka to play on the left side, on the wing. I really think she is a great player.
I think she could also play on both sides, left or right.
The interview was around the time Malgorzata Glinka was due to be maried. I joked with Kasia and asked why she did not cancel the wedding to play in Montreux and we laughed.  Kate said it was a pity she was not there with the team as she thinks she is one of the best in the world.
V-Pics Who would yo like as your other wing player then?
Kasia I think Ruiz of Cuba for the left side also. But there are many many great players who could play on this side, it is a very difficult question. For libero I think the Japanese libero or Cardullo of Italy.
We chated about one or two past players again. I would like to have got the name of a six player but Kate had to go soon so I asked her one or two last questions.
V-Pics Maybe Poland for the next Olympics? What do you think?
Kasia Yes I hope. We were very close this year. We are very sad that we did not get there this year. But we will try and we will fight for the next one.
V-Pics What about your club now?  Would you like to play with another club?
Kasia Well I will see this year. About my contract with my present club. If it is ok then I will stay one more year. But if it is not good then I would like to play for another club.
V-Pics Is there anywhere in particular you would like to go?
Kasia Well I would like to go to Italy sometime because it is a very good league, the best league. But it is not for me this year as I am not at my best I would like to be able to play there.
V-Pics Any particular club?
Kasia Well I have to think about that, not sure just yet.
V-Pics Would you like to play in Japan?
Kasia Well Japan is a distance away and also a different style of play and i think it is more difficult to play in Japan.  Italy is in Europe so it is nearer.
I would like to thank Kate for talking to me on behalf of Volleypics and also Gerard from Kate’s website for his help.  Kate is a really nice person and so easy to talk to and as is even more beautiful to meet in person as she is to see in her pictures.
Thank you so much Kate.
Eire

Interview: Naz Aydemir

Naz Aydemir of Turkey burst onto the international volleyball scene during the Junior (U20) World Championships in the summer of 2005 when she started as setter for her country in their last four matches. At the age of fourteen, she was the youngest starter at the tournament. She has since then been promoted to the senior team of Eczacibasi ISTANBUL, the top volleyball club in Turkey. In the last two months, she has found herself shouldering the full time setting duties for her team which competes in the Indesit European Champions League in addition to Turkish Division I.
Despite being thrown in the spotlight just recently, Naz Aydemir is no stranger to the international game. Shes been a member of Turkish Youth and Junior teams since 2003 and was elected as the MVP and the best setter during the group qualification phase of European Youth Championships in 2004.
This interview is copyright of Volleypics.com (Thanks to our Turkish friends for the interview)

 

Volleypics Naz  Can you tell us a little about yourself? Describe yourself with your own words.
Naz: If I talk about the Naz on court, shes someone who tries her best to win until the last second, is a fighter, believes that shes the mastermind of the team, is very ambitious and continuously follows the opponents coach.

Naz off the court is an uninhibited madcap and fun. Sometimes shes a kid and sometimes shes very mature, she likes to be friends (hang out) with those who are older, communicates well and loves learning new things. She writes good essays and poems, and is stubborn
V-pics How did you get interested in playing volleyball in the first place?
Naz Both my mother and father are former national team volleyball players but I did not start sports with volleyball. I started with athletics and high jump. I even have an unconfirmed Turkish Record in high jump. I then got interested in basketball. The more those around me said come play volleyball, the more I warmed up to playing basketball (I think my stubbornness was showing itself there) Later on, the then-Eczacibasi Head Coach Gokhan Edman said to my mom bring her to watch a practice and so that we can get a look at her. After watching the practice the next day, I decided to be a volleyball player and thats how it started.
V-Pics Did you start out as a setter or did you switch from another position?
Naz I was a spiker the first year I started volleyball, however, I did not play much since I was on the bench. Later when I started getting taller rapidly, they played me as setter for one year so as not to make me jump too much. When they saw that I took a shine to it and was keeping up, they let me keep at it. Until this point, I played every position but the libero. I even played as a middle blocker. Right now I still play as an opposite in youth team.
V-Pics People are obviously amazed when they hear about a 15-year old girl becoming the starting setter for a very big club team and, surprisingly, doing very well. How do you feel about this reaction from other people?
Naz Others did not expect this performance from me. I know that. At first they would not trust me. However, as time went on and I showed what I can do, they started believing in me. However, to tell the truth, I am not really interested in what other people think. My ears are closed.
V-Pics How do you handle the situation where you are the Setter and you are 5-6 or more years younger than any of your teammates (with few exceptions)? i.e. You have to decide and stay behind your decisions while dealing with much older people?….I can imagine that at your age it’s not easy in general, let alone on a volleyball court.
Naz I did not have any problems with respect to my age yet because the players I play with are aware of the functions of a setter. Thus I have not been having any problems. My teammates know that the setter is the mastermind of the team and because of this they dont interfere with me, just like I dont interfere with them.
V-Pics How do you feel about playing at this level in Champions League and the Turkish D1 at such a young age? Whats your biggest challenge?
Naz This is a big honor for me because, I think, I am the youngest setter to play in the Champions League. It was a great responsibility for me to follow Bahar (Mert Urcu) since everyone expected me to fill the void left by a good setter like her. The biggest challenge was to sell myself on those who did not think I would be able to cope with this responsibility.
V-Pics Do you get more pressure when you play, now that there’s much media attention about you starting for Eczacibasi Istanbul?
Naz I dont feel any pressure because as I said before my ears are closed to pressure, reactions, criticism and praise. I am walking on the path that Ive set for myself.
V-Pics How does it feel to play alongside some of the best players in the world like Nancy Metcalf and Stacey Gordon as well as Turkish National Team players like Esra Gumus and Gulden Kayalar? Along the same lines, how does it feel to be across the court from some of the sports greats like Maggie Glinka and Yumilka Ruiz?
Naz Playing with them and feeling their support is very enjoyable and they have a big contribution in my improvement as a player. It is also a lot of fun to play against the greats and keep up with them. When you think about it, I am 15 years old. They are 28, 29. Theres a huge gap of experience. However, playing against them not only improves my game but also enables me to enjoy it even more while playing.
V-Pics In your opinion, is being practically the only setter on your team at this point an advantage (meaning you do not have to be afraid to be subbed out) or a disadvantage (nobody to help you when you have an off day) for you?
Naz Even though it is very tiring, I like being the only one because this way we can do our set play organizations more comfortably. However, I cant deny that it is very tiring.
V-Pics Which tournament/ competition has been most special for you so far? Can you tell us about the experience?
Naz It was my first year as a setter on the pre-youth team at Turkish National Championships. We were playing in the final in Bolu. We had come there winning 3-0 against everyone else. During warm-ups of the last match, I broke my finger and continued playing. My coaches thought that I was crying because of stress, this being my first ever final. While they were trying to calm me down, they never even considered a broken finger. I played with that finger and we won the match and the championship. It was GREAT.
V-Pics Which player do you take as an example for yourself?
Naz I am not taking a single one player as an example for myself. Thats because if you do that, you end up being like her, I want to be better than the player that I would take as an example. Because of this, I do not have a chosen one.
V-Pics What players have you seen that you said “I think these are great players”?
Naz Ruiz: Other than her blocking, shes a complete player, very smart.
Glinka: A superb talent formed by the combination of physical superiority and intelligence.
Ravva: She can not be stopped.
Grün: In addition to her game, her desire and ambition.
These are all hitters because as I have said before, I dont take any setters as an example.
V-Pics If you are still in school, what’s your favorite subject?
Naz Yes I am in school still but I can attend classes very occasionally. Despite this, math and history are my favorite subjects. Literature as well.
V-Pics Talking about school, what are your plans for your future education? Will you be able to balance this with your volleyball career?
Naz I have to continue my sport along with education. This is something that my family and I have wanted from the time I was very young. Because you dont know what will happen tomorrow. Your volleyball career could be over in a blink with a serious injury and all you can do outside volleyball then would be a big zero. Because of this, I would like to have a guarantee in my pocket. I wish I had had a chance to play until the end of my life but I know theres not chance of that and volleyball will be over one day. I would like to study visual communications in college. It has everything that I am interested in: Photography, continuity writing, creative directorship, journalism…
V-pics What are the things you do on your free time?
Naz Usually I spend my off days sleeping in. Then my mom and I declare the day pleasure day. We go out to unwind, go shopping…
V-Pics Do you have a pet?  What kind of pet do you have?
Naz I have an American Cocker named Tarcin. (means cinnamon in Turkish)
V-Pics Thank you Naz, for answering our questions. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Naz I think this covers it all. Keep watching Turkish National Teams and Eczacibasi!! Thank you for your interest.

History of the Cuban Team

Cuba first started volleyball in 1906 thanks to a North American army officer, Agusto York. For the past decade, the Cubans have been at their best. They have won every major tournament since. They have won the Olympics gold for 3 consecutive times now, and the World Cup for 4 times in a row. Apart from 99, the girls have been winning medals in every Grand Prix. Expect them to continue their winning streak…..

World Championships

1970 1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998
8th 7th GOLD 5th SILVER 4th GOLD GOLD

Olympic Games

1972 1976 1980 1992 1996 2000
6th 5th 5th GOLD GOLD GOLD

World Cup

1973 1977 1981 1985 1989 1991 1995 1999
5th SILVER 6th SILVER GOLD GOLD GOLD GOLD

World Grand Prix

1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
GOLD SILVER BRONZE SILVER SILVER BRONZE 5th GOLD

Zhang Rongfang (CHN)

A joyful explosion of energy and wit

Zhang Rongfang displaying her usual joviality at the Los Angeles Olympics in 84. The horizontal stripe on her jersey under her team’s name symbolises her role as captain. By choosing her for that position, China benefitted from her never-ending enthusiasm and spark.

Back in the days when Lang Ping had led China into the international scene by winning the 1981 World Cup and the 1984 Olympics, Zhang Rongfang was China’s other outside hitter, a much shorter player than Lang Ping, but almost as effective in her attacks.

Zhang Rongfang had a cheery disposition on the court, very playful, almost child-like. A friend from China told me that her personality is characteristic of people from the province of Szechuan (though I’m not sure of this… I’m assuming he’s right), from where team-mate Liang Yan is also from (ditto the above).

Zhang’s jumps and spikes seemed so easily done that they infused the team with a vital confidence in its skills. Though Zhang Rongfang played brilliantly but in the shadow of the great Lang Ping, she deserves merit for co-coaching the Chinese team with Lang Ping at the 1986 World Championships in Czechoslovakia.

Together with Lang Ping, she took China to the final and to a 3-1 victory over Cuba. Even when coaching, it seemed like Zhang Rongfang was having a grand time, giggling innocently at the Cuban mistakes or at China’s miraculous plays which were not short of amazing.

During time-outs, Zhang was actually the one to go talk to her players, while Lang Ping seemed to be more of the thinking type. (That or she was still learning how to be a coach, which apparently worked really well in the latter half of the ’90s!)

One observation from the 1981 World Cup final against Japan:maybe it was the long-time rivalry China has with Japan, or the fact that China was playing on Japanese home court, or the fact that China was playing for its first major international tournament title, but Zhang Rongfang and her team-mates seemed to really take the match seriously. The Japanese played with their usual good-spirited, everything’s-alright type of attitude, whereas the Chinese played with hard fought competitiveness and a touch of malice, like they were going for the kill. In the end (and this can be said of anythermatches as well), that extra malice was decisive for the 3-2 victory against Japan. It was a thrilling match, one that I will always remember, with both teams trading well-placed hits, sweeping digs, and at times turning it into a battle of “Japan versus Lang Ping and Zhang Rongfang”.
At times, every ball Sun Jingfang set went to the outside hitters because they were so effective, but by the fifth set all of the Japanese players had learned how to dig up every single ball that Zhang and Lang were hitting! Yuko Mitsuya was unstoppable in the middle and so was rookie Kayoko Sugiyama.

But China won in the end by 17-15, I believe, and when they blocked one of the Japanese outside hitters on championship point, one of the Chinese players slammed the ball down towards the defeated Japanese with rage. Oh, and what was up with the last minute hairdos that most of the Chinese players were sporting?

Both Zhang and Lang and two other Chinese players had bundled their hair in what looked like messy emergency pony tails!Considering the short years that Zhang Rongfang’s career lasted (1980?-1984), it seems amazing how the sport of volleyball could produce two such different players at the same time – Zhang Rongfang and Mireya Luis.

Whereas the former was shorter than the latter, and with Mireya physically able to jump a whole lot more, Zhang Rongfang’s greatness seems all the more astounding.: Her incredible sense of court space allowed her to convert a set into an easy kill with her little two-footed hop and quick arm swing.

She fits into my category of those physically smaller players who helped push their teams with their energy and enthusiasm. In Peru we call these sorts of players “the little hearts of their teams”.

Lang Ping always kept her cool in between frissons after every point.

Zhang Rongfang always celebrated wildly, even pouting and laughing at her own mistakes. But in the end she always regained her confidence and played.

Reproduced with permission from Stjepanidzse’s Volleyball Hall of Fame.

This is the first of many past player profiles which we will be featuring in connection with Stjepanidze’s website.

Interview: Caren Kemner (Exclusive to Volleypics.com)

1. Which was your first match with the national team?

Caren KemnerMy first match with the USA National Team was in the latter part of 1985 against a Korean Club team from Seoul. Don’t really trust my memory much but I believe we won 1 match or maybe 2 out of a 5 match series. Being that my first international match, it was comparable to watching hummingbirds, you know how they [the Korean players] were here one minute and gone the next. Needless to say I could only compare this to college volleyball at the time. I was named to the National Team in early 1985 at an open tryout in Colorado Springs. Looking back it was like a “cattle call.” There were folks there who never even played volleyball and were trying out…my favorite, was an aerobics instructor who thought it would look good on her resume.

Did you ever play with the junior national team? Or did you go straight to the adult team?

I never played for the junior teams, never even played club volleyball, I was not about to give up my summer softball program. (Softball was my true first love, I would have played that in the Olympics had it been an Olympic sport back then.)

Did you sub in for someone?

I never subbed in for a player until returning to the National Team in 1995… boy that was fun!

2. Most of the USA silver-medallists from Los Angeles retired after 1984. When you made the adult team what was the energy like among the new generation of players (yourself, Masakayan, Rock, the Odens, Kirby, etc.)? Was there pressure to play up to the level of your predecessors?

Of course now I know what it feels like, having experienced the emotional roller coaster ride first-hand of being “replaced” by a new kid on the block. It is a very confusing time. It’s not that you don’t want the new team to do well, but you don’t! You in some way want to hold on and believe that what you did was the best and can never be surpassed. When I first joined the National Team, I know for a fact that is how some of the previous players felt… I did not understand that at the time because I idolized them, I was hoping someday to be maybe as good as them. Of course back then I also think I got a little extra steam rolling from them because I was given Flo Hyman’s number to wear. I didn’t really want that number because it was Flo’s… then when she died I felt like I was wearing a bull’s eye on me. I felt that Flo’s number should have been retired as well. But now, honestly, I am glad that I wore her number and I think Flo would have been happy to know that I did that number proud and strangely enough I thought about her many times throughout my career and the doors that she and the many other players ahead of me opened.

Going back to your original question about the next group of athletes: in 1989, when I was playing professionally in Milan, at the end of every year there was a match between the Italian All Stars and the Foreigners. Well here I was on the train down to Rome and I was sitting next to Rita Crockett. I was afraid that this was going to be the longest trip! I wanted to speak with her because I knew that there was just something that she did not like about me. (That’s fine there are a lot of things I don’t like about myself!) Finally she took her headset off and we ended up talking the whole trip about this one subject. To be honest even then I understood to an extent…those ladies busted their asses for years, and basically were let go [from the team]. I would have some issues too. Oops, I do!

3. In the 1986 World Championships in Czechoslovakia, the USA had a team that was in very good physical shape. Despite falling short of victory by a couple of points, the match was athletic and very explosive. What are your memories of that match?

I don’t remember much about those World Championships but I do remember playing East Germany. They were one of the top ranked teams in the world back then.

4. What was your match with China like at those world championships? What did you think of the Chinese team back then?

I’ll tell you what I remember about my first World Championships: gender testing. There was a lot of talk about a player from South Korea who suddenly did not play anymore…that is a lot for a kid from Illinois…gender testing?

5. One year after that, the USA was determined not to let Peru take the Japan Cup as an undefeated champion. The last match against Peru was very entertaining and you almost pulled off your promise. Was there a sort of continental rivalry developing with the Peruvian team in the ‘80s? What did you think of them?

Peru was awesome. They were the Mighty Mice that could and did! I am not sure that the rivalry was really about one specific team, I think we where improving and no one really wanted to lose to the new kids on the block. Although in the late 80s and early 90s it seemed that a lot of the big matches came right down to Peru and the US. In later years, I had a chance to get to know some of the [Peruvian] players. They were a lot of fun to run into off the court and laugh with.

6. In Seoul ‘88 the USA played several close matches. Again the match with Peru was an interesting one to watch; what happened in that match? Did Peru awaken or did the USA get a bit nervous about pulling an upset?

I think in ‘88 Peru turned it up a notch, and I am sure that we were showing our inexperience. Back then so many of the teams from the ‘84 Olympics had retained their players and had tremendous amounts of experience. The only person on our team who could even grasp this was Laurel Kessel, our setter, and she was from the team that didn’t go to the ’80 Olympics because of the boycott.

7. What was the most important thing that the team learned in Seoul?

So many things, both good and bad. I thought it was great to experience the Olympic movement. Was I going to remain with the team? I wasn’t sure. Let’s just say there was a lot of crap flowing and I seemed to be in the direction of the flow.

8. At the ’90 World Championships in China you got to play against Lang Ping. What was that like? We spectators saw how amazing she was to watch, but what did it feel like to be her opponent on the court? What do you think of her legacy to the sport, both as a player back then and as a coach more recently with China and the USA?

I am not sure I truly understood the whole Lang Ping thing then, that whole team was amazing…like machines. I just wanted to play well and make a match out of it. [For that semifinal] the arena was absolutely filled to the ceiling with probably another thousand people or so outside trying to get in. That match was televised all over China… they would have been smarter to watch Pandas mating because I think the match was over within about 45 minutes. Years later I was honored to get to know Lang Ping a little better. I pushed for her to get the coaching job when I was on the panel for hiring the new coach for 2000. I would have stayed playing as a libero, and would have wanted to play a lot longer for “Jenny”.

9. The third place finish the USA obtained at the ’90 Worlds was a very welcome surprise, but didn’t receive much coverage in the US? What does the US public need to get more interested in volleyball?

Of course the USA did not say anything about our Bronze…but people in the volleyball world got a sense then that perhaps the US was coming into its own. The world of sports in the United States is a tough nut to crack… men have to watch it, and someone better have a lot of money to put behind it. Remember the United States kind of only cares about most Olympic sports once every four years. You are either a hero or dead in the water. And Winter Olympics have an even tougher time of it.

10. By the way, what was it like beating Cuba for that third place at the World championships? What sort of relationship did you have with Mireya or the Cubans in general?

Cuba…I guess I am addicted to pain. I always enjoy playing the best teams. I felt not only the challenge, but I really learned a lot by playing against the likes of Mireya and [Magaly] Carvajal. They made me better! It was great to beat them, especially when I heard later that other countries that were at the World Championships were betting we would lose in three. I do remember the first 8 points…They were like explosions, hell I think we over-passed the first 6 serves! What was the turnaround I am not sure. That would sure be one of those fun matches to watch on video. That is probably the only match against Cuba that you will ever hear me say “let’s watch that again!”

11. In order to go to Barcelona you first had to qualify at the ’91 World Cup. I read Greg Giovanazzi’s diary in Volleyball Magazine in which he details the tension that the team went through match by match leading up to the defining moment: again, a match against Peru! How was that final match? What do you remember most about your efforts to qualify for the Olympics?

The tension in that locker room for everyone (staff included) was crazy strange before the match with Peru. I am not sure how many players on this team were even around for years preceding this match to know about how many times we had to play Peru at pivotal moments. Peru was the team that could make things happen with one play and suddenly have control of the match. It was a great match… I would have liked to win in three but things happen for a reason. That match had to do with more emotional growth for us than anything else, which I think, had a lot to do with the success that came after.

12. In Peru, we suffered that loss almost as much as the ’88 final because our best player, Gaby, was in her prime and playing her best game and she could’ve had a great Olympic experience. Did you ever meet her, talk to her?

I have been fortunate to meet and speak with Gaby. A lot of time playing professional overseas you kind of seek out folks who have been around with you on the international circuit. When I wasn’t on the court I was kind of a goofball. Many times my own teammates would get angry at me for speaking to other players. They could not understand how a person could be friendly and polite with someone you go to battle against. I understand…but I always felt that I was much more than just a volleyball player. Heck, many of the folks I saw during those 18 years were around a lot longer than players on my own team. Besides, life is too short…I have great memories of many different places in the world as well as the people who live there.

13. By the way, tell me about the ’91 All-Star Gala Match against the Soviets. How was it playing alongside Mireya, Magaly Carvajal, Gaby, Rosa García, Li Yueming, Ana Moser, Kumi Nakada, etc.? How did you all communicate? Was the camaraderie good? Did you have fun?

All-Star matches were a BLAST. All I did was pass, cover and play defense. Mireya, Magaly used to joke around… they would say, “You pass, we hit.” Needless to say you don’t have to tell me twice. As always I just filled in any gaps. What can you say about setting when you have that talented group of ladies swinging for you… I would have to beg for a back row set, and even then everyone thought it was for them! Language was never really an issue…I just went along for the ride. I truly enjoyed playing with the All-Stars.

14. Barcelona showed a very balanced Team USA. Why were you shifted to play as outside hitter? Was it because Paula had returned? Hadn’t she played outside hitter at the ’86 Worlds?

I think in ‘92 there were a couple of things that happened that caused a shift in the line up. We all knew that Paula and I had to be on the court at the same time. Our middle was pretty solid with Kim and Elaina Oden, so moving Paula there made no sense. Paula was trained as a middle from the ‘84 days, she could play anywhere too, but her approach was classically a little short/middle or right side. Tee Sanders and Tara Battle where the lefts then and the staff felt that if Paula went right-side it would be logical to put me on the left to get more swings at the ball if we got in trouble. I hated giving up the right side… I had it dialled in, but in the end I am glad that I had the ability to go just about anywhere and put up a good fight.

15. Tell me about the opening match against Japan in Barcelona. Did Lori really get so sick that she couldn’t finish the match?

I am not sure how sick Lori got…we both had a difficult time playing in really hot and humid arenas.

How many days before had you arrived to Spain?

I personally arrived in Spain about 4 days before the team. I attended the FIVB Congress to receive the award for the FIVB Best Player in the World.

What did you think of Motoko Ohbayashi, the Japanese lefty? Was she really a player that made a difference for her team? What was the challenge about playing against her?

The match against Japan as always was difficult. You just never knew what the Japanese team was capable of and that could frustrate you. Ohbayashi is probably to this day the best hitter they ever had, but oddly enough, if you watch her emotions, she controlled that team but not playing so “Japanese.” I am not sure if that makes sense but it was one of the little things that I noticed about her. When I played matches I watched everything good about players…Their walk, talk, laugh, those are all telling signs. Then if you know a player’s tendency you put the two together, and you have a damn good chance of knowing what they are going to do next, either as an individual or as a team.

16. So you barely lost to Japan, you beat Spain easily, and then you faced the former USSR (the CIS). What was that match like? How did it feel to beat them?

The match against Russia was a first in many ways:

A. it was the first time the US beat Russia in an Olympics.

B. That match we got to a point of playing beyond what we had done before.

For me personally I loved playing against Russia, Cuba, and Brazil, because in a lot of ways we played pretty similar styles of ball. But you always had to kick it up a notch whether it meant physically, emotionally, or intellectually. After that match Greg [Giovanazzi] came up to me and said that I made the people around me play better. I’m not really sure how but I did feel at every moment of the match that we had it won even when we were behind in the score, kind of like that fourth game against China in ‘96 before I got subbed out. I knew that if we got them to a fifth game we would beat them. I wish I would have gotten the chance to see that through.

Did you notice if the CIS team played any differently since they were after all a team with no real “country” or flag?

I don’t think those women from Russia really felt they were without a country so to say, they were there to win, for some people it is a matter of life!

17. Apart from what I read in Volleyball Magazine about the semifinal against Cuba and how the bad passing forced Lori to set outside all the time, what was it that cost the USA the match? Has that been the most painful loss of your career? How did you get over it?

I do know that the passing was a little suspect, but I think that Lori felt if we were going to go down it was going to be on my shoulders. By no means out of spite… I had been there many times before. I just wish we could have opened the net up a little by getting the ball to Paula or Elaina. That match ranks right up there with the China match in ‘96, and to be honest I am not sure where I am in recovering from losing those.

18. Was beating Brazil for the bronze the best way to recover from the defeat to Cuba?

Once again, Brazil was a team that I had pretty much figured out. Talking about TALENT. Brazil is one of, if not THE most, athletic team out there. I understood that it was their emotions which were a read for me. Ana Moser and I are, I would say, very good friends. She has vacationed with me as well as other Brazilian teammates at my home in San Diego. Unfortunately, I told Ana my “tell” for the Brazilians and she passed that on, in the future they were not as fiery. It must have been the caipirinhas that made me tell.

What does it feel like to stand on an Olympic podium and be known forever as an Olympic medallist?

The podium is where you strive to be, a gold is what you strive for, if not, why bother. I wish I could do it again but hear my national anthem.

19. This was the USA’s second consecutive major bronze in two years. Do you think it was the best period under Terry’s coaching? Or was it winning the Grand Prix in 1995? What did Terry bring to the team with his coaching style? How did you see his coaching evolve through the years when you played on the team?

This is a tough one to answer… I believe that ‘91-‘92 was perhaps the opening of the door. Sometimes you just need to see what is on the other side and feel how close you are to being on the other side…the side when you’re truly a team to be dealt with. I think our overall best volleyball was played in 1995 and there was no doubt that ‘96 was to be a continuation of all those previous years.

20. I saw a Japan versus USA match at the Japan Super Four right after Barcelona in which the hosts defeated the USA in three sets. What is it about the Japanese game that surprises teams so much? Is it hard to adjust to the quicker games of Asian teams? Do you miss that old-style Asian way of playing in modern day volleyball?

NO, I do not miss the Asian way of volleyball. I feel strongly that there are many wonderful parts of the game that should be incorporated with a larger, more powerful game. I think the USA and Brazil were in that space somewhere between the Eastern Bloc style and Cuba’s style. We are both tall strong and yet quick and agile. I kind of remember that match…but all I can ever tell you is that there is a deep seated tension (nice way of putting it) between the two teams [Japan and the USA] that probably goes back well into the ‘80s.

21. Why were you absent from the team from 1993 to 1995?

From ‘93-‘95 I played professionally in Brazil and Japan, as well as just taking a mental break from the National Team.

22. What made you decide to come back to the national team in 1995? What made Paula come back? What do you think about her career and how did she manage to keep playing for so long?

Paula is not only just an awesome person, but I can tell you that people laughed at our friendship, because everyone pretty much knew how different we were as individuals. But we really came to not only understanding each other’s personalities but we just became much better on the court. Even though on the court we went about our games very differently, it is as if we kind of knew what the other was thinking and worked from there. Paula and I have played for a lot of years in very different times, and yet because of our travels together there weren’t too many teams that, when we got on the court together, we didn’t know how to manage.

23. By the way, I read that both you and Paula played professionally in Japan. Tell me about your earthquake experience in Kobe!

I was in a flight back to the States for knee surgery and a blown ankle when the earthquake hit. When I landed in San Diego only then did I know that an earthquake devastated Kobe and Osaka. The center of that earthquake was only a few miles from our homes, and only because the force went toward Osaka I think is why Kobe was spared. I went back a few months later for the end of the season and there where aftershocks constantly.

24. When you returned in ’95 for the Grand Prix Terry would sub you or Paula in during crucial moments to improve “ball control”. Were you happy with this role? What went right for the USA that year? How did it feel to win a major international tournament (for the first time) against the world’s best teams?

I can tell you I hate being a sub…but Paula and I got the point that this was just how it was going to be and so we dealt with it. I truly feel the beauty of this situation goes back to what I mentioned before about Paula and I: we could play any position needed and those folks on the floor felt safe knowing that when we came in we would just take care of business. This allowed them to breathe and just have a little more fun, perhaps it even removed some of the pressure. After all we knew most of the teams we played against like the back of our hand, and coming off the bench we could relay not the things that were taking place in the match, but perhaps expressed them in a way to help turn things around.

25. Why was it hard to sustain that level at the ’96 Olympics? Did nerves play a factor being the home team? Were expectations too high? The China match in pool play was crucial. You entered at key moments and you fired up the crowd to raise the momentum for the team and it worked! How do you manage to work the crowd?

‘96 Olympics. Some of the best and worst memories. This team was ready beyond belief. No pressure, just living the moment. I have some very direct feelings as to what happened in ‘96 but I think those are better served under wraps. Moving the mountain maybe, raising the dead is what it felt more like. The match against China… I knew when I went on the court and we started a comeback that we would have China going in a fifth game. I just felt it in my heart, and that is what devastated me the most. Why? When? Only coaches can answer, but I can tell you that in all of my years those where the most fun 10 or so points that I ever played. I think I was able to sell what I was feeling in my heart to the other players on the court by just “bringing it”, followed with a joke and smile. Wanting to get the crowd into it was just as natural as asking someone to dance with you when your favorite song comes on. They wanted to dance, they were just waiting for a good song and someone to ask them.

26. What was different (or not) about this new Chinese team? They seemed happier playing than the US players; how did they manage to squeak that win over the US?

The Chinese players off the court are actually pretty funny and down to earth. Even in years past (perhaps beyond the coaches’ watch) there were moments of just being with people that you respected that gave you a small understanding of them off the court. I have got some money on “Jenny” Lang Ping. She had been living and coaching abroad for years leading up to taking that coaching position for China, and Jenny probably gave those players a space to enjoy being that good.

What did you feel when you got subbed out?

I am not sure to this day what happened in the moments after being subbed out…if I was angry I hope I didn’t show it for the team’s sake. You may have to ask around as to why that went down the way it did.
Was Liley that important to have back on the court at that crucial moment?
Tammy came right back in and did her job…never skipping a beat, in hindsight perhaps it just let the air out of the gym with not just the players questioning why but everyone who was watching.

27. Things played themselves bizarrely on the other pool. No one expected Cuba to lose two matches and come in third and then play the USA in the quarterfinals. Cuba bulldozed through that match, but you managed to put on the brakes on them for a while. What was it like playing Cuba at the height of their dominance?

I have always loved playing Cuba, it was like two heavyweight boxers in a street fight. Mireya, Magaly, as well as the coaching staff, are just the best people, I miss them. We always challenged each other…besides the obvious match between 6 vs. 6 for me there were other little battles: getting past Magaly’s block, and just digging lips on Mireya’s spikes. They were awesome to watch but way more fun to play against. I am glad that at one time we (USA) were good enough to go head to head with them.

What about the controversy over their sportsmanship (or lack thereof)?

They just played straightforward and waited to see if you could stop the train. When you have that many ball bangers on the court…to complicate it would have been suicide for them.

28. What did you tell Mireya to tell Raisa O’Farrill when she roofed you and raised her fist at you in the quarterfinal?

Awh…the controversy. I remember getting the lights blocked out of me and as I turned to walk away. I just heard a scream that went right through my skin and when I turned around O’Farrill looked as if she just wanted to go for it right then. You know what…B-LL SH-T; I’ve played this game too darn long, too hard, and with too much respect to be chanted like that. If she had said one more thing I may have gone under that net! Of course later I realized there was a TV microphone right there…and let’s just say I used a couple of choice words. Mireya and Magaly pretty much came over to me and said, “Caren we got it!” I just wasn’t going to take that…I have never treated any player in 15 years without respect on the court or off the court for that matter.

Did you see or read about the famous “Atlanta Brawls” between Cuba and Brazil?

I did not see what took place in the Brazil match…but both of those teams were due! That Olympics had probably the best pool teams ever and there was tension and attitude adrift.

29. According to what you wrote in the Volleypics Fan Forum, it sounds like the loss against Cuba in Atlanta was worse than the one in Barcelona. Why was this one more painful? Was there something good that you gathered from actually returning to the national team and having another intense Olympic experience? After playing in many Olympics, did the pressure of winning increase with each one?

I am not sure if the pressure increased with each Olympics…but we were a damn good team and for the first time I was really enjoying the ladies that I played with. I waited 12 years to interact with teammates as good as them. I was going to fight for them. I think in years past at times I felt like I was on a desert island, not knowing who I could really trust in the organization. In ‘96 I trusted those ladies, without question, and funny enough I think they got to know me a little bit…and had some good laughs! In ‘96 it wasn’t so much the loss to Cuba that crushed me, it was 14 years of busting my ass and having it come down to what I thought and still do as bad decisions that brought everything to a screaming halt.

30. If you have a formula for getting over painful losses, what advice would you give someone who still can’t get over one? How does one change perspectives in order to convert a loss into a feeling of achievement and accomplishment?

I have thought a lot about getting over that pain. Beers, Tears and Mirrors. I drank a lot…I cried even more, and I kept looking in a mirror hoping that someday I would see me again. I am not sure a person can ever get over it…I have not! But I have managed to find ME again and GET THROUGH it. I think that an even harder part is getting on with phase 2 of my life. When you where the best in the world everything else seems to only feel like failure. I hold tight knowing that for a brief time in this life I did something very few have, and the core of that person is the same person today.

31. When did you decide to retire from the team?

Having the Olympics in Atlanta in ‘96 meant so much. I wanted my family to have the opportunity to experience my life first hand. It also gave me a window to say good-bye with my head up and celebrate everyone who had cheered and cried right along with me. When we finished the final match and I took my jersey off and threw it to the crowd…it just felt right. I was just Caren standing there… NO UNIFORM, just me!

32. In hindsight, what are the best things that you achieved, obtained, or gathered from your volleyball career? What made Caren Kemner stand out from all the other players? What is your legacy (or what would you want it to be)?

I am not sure about this whole legacy thing, kind of a scary thought. I take with me the opportunity to see the world and meet extraordinary people when life was a little more, shall I say, PEACEFUL. I hope that those who followed my career saw a great athlete with even a greater heart. What made me stand out from others; perhaps you all can tell me that.

33. What’s the most important thing for an athlete to have or do in his/her post-athletic life?

Post athletic life…it is like a second hell. “I’ve lost my MOJO.” I don’t have an answer for this because no matter what, I am still struggling to exist in my new skin!

Caren, on behalf on Volleypics.com thank you so much for a an interview which has given us an insight into you inner feelings with great highs and lows. . For a really honest look at a great Athlete’s life.

Thanks Seb and Anna for helping with the questions.
Eire.