July 15, 2013
Gophersports.com caught up with senior leaders Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman. Both have been busy this summer, individually competing with separate USA Volleyball affiliated groups. Dixon traveled to Anaheim to train with the United States National Team, while Ashley Wittman was selected to the A2 program, which highlights some of the best collegiate players in the country. Here's a short question/answer session about their experience.
What was the process of you getting your foot in the door with USA Volleyball?
Tori Dixon: I was contacted in December of 2012, after our season asking if I wanted to a part of this coaching clinic to demonstrate practices with Karch Kiraly for other coaches to come and watch a seminar. When I was there, Karch was there running the clinic. He saw me, pulled me over to the side. He said he had watched me during the 2012 season, liked what he saw, liked my work ethic and asked if I would be interested in joining them for two-three weeks to train. I jumped at the chance.
Ashley Wittman: The reason I was able to participate in this program was because I went to a USA tryout in February and I was selected to participate in the A2 program in July and train with around 48 other collegiate athletes.
Where did you train/compete with these groups and how many other college teams/players were represented?
What's it like to be putting on that USA Volleyball gear for the first time?
TD: I went down there to practice for two weeks and it was with the U.S. National Team. There were no set rosters yet when I was there so it was the whole team practicing, which was a total of 25-27 that come and go. There were a lot there, more than I expected. I was the youngest player in the gym and it ranged to the oldest in Danielle Scott, who is close to 40.
AW: I competed in Dallas, Texas from June 25 thru July 4. I think there were around 48 other players and about twenty different colleges represented.
It's really a great experience all around. I wasn't expecting so much stuff and I ended up buying another suitcase! I was expecting a pair of shoes and some kneepads. I got a lot of gear and was really cool to be able to experience that. It's great to get to where what the team does and they made you really feel like you were a part of the program and that you belonged there. It was fun to represent the country. We even started out two practices by playing the national anthem. It was nice honoring the country and playing for USA. It was fun.
It was very exciting and I was very proud to be representing USA, and being a part of this great country. I felt blessed to have this opportunity to play for USA and show everyone what I could do.
What's something you learned that was new to you?
TD: It really wasn't that much of an adjustment because Hugh did a good job of bringing the same system as they currently do. We do all of the same stuff, but the biggest jump for me was the speed of it. It was quadruple the speed we run here. The first day I was overwhelmed, but after the first day, I picked up on it and got used to it. After the first day I could keep up with it and it was just the mental aspect of getting used to it. The biggest thing I learned was just competing against some of the best in the world. I'm practicing against some of the best college players to ever play. It was interesting to see their work ethic, how they became so good and the overall atmosphere in the gym. It's really competitive, but everyone is just trying to get better. It's a really good learning environment, but competitive at the same time.
AW: I think a big thing I learned was being able to mesh and communicate with 15 other players that I did not know, and being able to adapt to a new environment quickly. We had to compete against other teams right away. It was just a new experience that I haven't had in a while and a new thing I had to adapt to and figure out for myself. I think this will be something that I will take into the new season because we have so many new players added to this team and it will be a very different dynamic then what most of us are used to. Being able to adapt and communicate will be a very large piece to this new season and all the new players.
Ashley touched on this in her previous answer, but Tori, what's something you can take from what you learned with USA Volleyball and apply it back to Gopher Volleyball?
TD: I think the whole competitive atmosphere is what I'd like to bring to more here. They have so many players and if you don't figure it out, someone else will. It's such an interesting environment and hopefully it continues to bring in great players here. We have a ton of good people next year and I think that atmosphere is going to take place here, whether we like it or not. Everyone's going to be fighting for a spot and no one is ever safe. Everyone is competitive, but also supportive. I hope that this can go on in Minnesota's gym as well.
What was the best part about your experience?
TD: I think I just got a heads up to what I want my future to be. I hope to have a career with USA Volleyball after my Gopher career. I think it was nice to get a heads up as to what I can expect after college is done. I don't feel like I'll go in there next year and be completely lost. I have familiarity with it, know what to do, where things are and be able to function. It was nice to see what it's like and what to expect if you want to be the best in the world.
AW: The best part was being able to train at a high level with other high level collegiate athletes and learning how other people play and the things they can do to help me advance my game and grow in my volleyball IQ.
Preseason will quickly approach and you two will be seniors. What can Gopher fans expect from the team this season?
TD: You're going to see a whole bunch of new faces, that's for sure. We've been in camp for the past week and I am excited that some of the players are back on campus. We've got the newcomers on campus so everyone's really good. Having all of the good players, I feel like everyone's going to have to be good because you have no choice. Freshmen are going to come in and push a lot of our team. I think people will see a lot of technical improvement all the way around. I think we're going to have a better team than last year and hopefully the success will just grow and get better.
AW: I think they can expect a lot from the team this season. We have a great group of athletes coming in this season and a great returning group and I expect this team to go very far this year. It's going to be a fun season!