PictureReally blew that one.
Down the steep stairs, as if we were about to run out of the coliseum, we lurked from the shadows of the tunnel  onto the court, the cheers echoing off the dome and as I turned to see the whole crowd I knew we were in for an amazing night.

When we walked out a hour prior to first serve, half the gym was full, by the time hitting warm ups began, there wasn't an empty seat to be found. Already dripping in sweat, I was ready for the game, well almost... I figured it would be a great time to use the bathroom and officially get all the nerves out. Unfortunately for the only guy on the team that doesn't speak Portuguese, the team was scheduled to take a team picture. Which of course I found later that night on my teammate's Instagram. So I'm 0-1 on making the pre match team picture but I didn't know at the time and as I came back I was ready to get the match underway.

It was a great early matchup for us against Canoas who was coming off an easy 3-1 victory in their first math of the year. Lead by one of the most dominant Brazilian middles ever, Gustavo and one of the emerging talents at the setting position for Brazil, Murillo. The nerves were apparent as 4 of the first 6 points came from missed serves. With the crowd getting anxious, both teams slowed down the tempo, grooving the serves, leading to a sideout battle back and forth leading into the end of the set (Brazilian Super League is playing to 21 this year) we made the sub for our 2nd setter, Thiago Gellinski as a serving sub and he came up big, digging their opposite down the line as we converted a long overdue real point. A quick timeout followed as they went back to their opposite, this time trying his luck cross court. As if he was playing on the AVP, Quiroga was waiting and dove with everything he had at the last second closing the first set and sending every fan in the gym onto their feet with a clutch stuff.

With the momentum of the first set as well as the confidence stemming from our fans we got on a roll early in the second set. Lorena (our opposite) had his way, sending balls off the hands into the crowd, slicing balls down the line and getting the crowd involved after each huge rally. Once again, Thiago came late into the set and was able to run off a couple more points, making a timely dig in area one, placing a ball perfectly to me where I was able to jump the 3 meter line and let Quiroga go high off the block. Everything was going right and even when it wasn't our composure lead to a quick sideout.

The 3rd game went by a flash, having Ricardinho as our setter, we were able to dictate the game with our counter attack, early and often. Anything dug  3-6 meters off the net and with enough height is usually perfect for him, having every option our team was relentless and made the most of every defensive effort. It still wasn't enough in my eyes so determined on getting the next point or moving on to the next ball, I never stopped to realize the pace of the game, until it was 20-13 and match point for the good guys. I was able to take a break from my determined focus share a smile with the fans in attendance as they rose to their feet once again.

We got point number 21 and we were able to share our home opener with the crowd in grand fashion as we swept Canoas 3-0. It was a special moment to share with the fans, the city and of course my teammates. The first of many, while I know it will be a long season I know we will be ready for the challenges and battles that await us. I for one, can't wait.
Tonight 9:30 pm Brazilian time, we open the super league against the reigning champs, RJX Volei. We've had two great trainings in Rio and will take advantage of the rest of the time prior to the match to recover and to refocus for tonight's contest. 

RJX Volei, based in Rio returns Bruno (setter), Mario Jr (libero), both fixtures on this year's World League team for Brazil and to further their strengthen their bid for a 2nd title they have added the long time opposite for the Brazilian national team, Leandro Vissotto as well one of the most dominant middles in the world, Rodrigão. It's been a great month of training but I know everyone is excited as I am to begin Super League and to have first crack at the defending champs in their home gym. It should be an amazing atmosphere with some of the best players in the world taking the court.

Here is the link for the game http://tv.onlinemoviesportsandtv.com/sport-tv-1-brazil-live-streaming/
If for some reason it goes down, https://www.facebook.com/pages/USA-Mens-Womens-Indoor-Volleyball-Fan-Zone/293577044082477 usually will find the back up. 

Start times:
Brazil: 9:30 pm
USA (PST): 5:30 pm
USA (EST): 8:30 pm
Finland: 1:30 am
PictureU of Hawaii Alum, Pedro Azenha
This past Thursday we got our first chance to leave the dome of Chico Neto Gymnasium as we traveled up north for two friendly matches. The first thing that caught my eye by surprise was our bus. Going into the trip we knew it was going to be a grueling 8 hours, which I know all about living in the south of Finland and making at least 5, 6 hour bus trips throughout the year. Fortunately for us, we had an amazing bus that had rows of seats, which could pull into beds as well. Our 8 hour trip, was essentially a decent night's worth of sleep. We were able to stop for breakfast and I said my first taste of Açaí, native to the Brazil and the amazon (per 100 g of dry powder) packs 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein, and 32.5 g total fat. For a vegan, it's a perfect kick start to my day and I only hope to make it a staple of my morning breakfast here.

We made it to the hotel, where we were given some time to nap, a quick lunch followed by more napping (if you're a athlete on a road trip, you nap and then you'll nap some more) so of course after lunch a little more napping and then we we're off to face São Bernardo. Just like our gym, Chico Neto it was a dome and it was HUGE, so far it's been a libero's dream to compete in these gyms. Think Walter Pyramid ceiling, there's no way your shanking a ball to the ceiling nor punting at that. Unlike our first friendly, this gym couldn't be more empty and we were able to get after it right away. Just like Vivo/Minas, São Bernardo was able to dictate the match with their serve receive and defense, it didn't matter who was defending, they refused to let anything touch the ground. We fought and we scrapped to a 2-2 finish, deciding recovery would take president over a 5th game. We shook  hands and to my surprise they had former All-American on their team, Pedro Azenha (Hawaii). We were able to catch up a little bit and throw around some mutual friends but just like everyone I've been able to meet here, he couldn't of been nicer and wished me a warm and prosperous stay in his home country.

The next day we we're up early, breakfast finished and on the bus, to get a morning lift with our team trainer, Flavio. I'll try to speak eventually about the lifting culture here in Brazil but what I have learned is it's a staple and foundation at least with our team. Back to the dome and we we're able to get after it, just like a mentioned before, being a staple of our team, the guys don't take any days off. Even if they aren't feeling too fresh they still commit to their lift and it's a pleasure to be apart of an environment with no excuses and no explanations, the guys here refuse to take days off and I know it'll pay dividends throughout the season.

After weights, we we're able to grab a nice bite and then it was nap time once again as everyone went back to their respective rooms for hibernation. Checkout time came at an extremely awkward time and left us in the hotel lobby for 2 hours to fiddle and for myself, Moomo and Renan, time to experiment with my Go-Pro, which you can see more of below. The time finally came to head out to the gym as we took on a younger 1st division team, São Caetano. It was clear that we had been marked on their schedule for quite some time as they competed with their lives on the line and took the first two sets. We we're able to come back a take the next 2 with strong play from Thiago and Rennan but as the match concluded, we knew our presence of mind wasn't acceptable and wouldn't be when we open up the season in a week. Overall, it was great to get on the road with the guys, to bound a little bit and to see what still must be addressed before our opener next Saturday. Below is a little video documenting the week, after awhile I let some of the younger guys take control of the Go-Pro and what I got back was a lot of shots of the floor, sandals and the ceiling but with the power of editing I was able to put some clips together to show what it is like for life on the road. Vamos Moda Maringa Volei!
I've spoken a lot about our first match and the amazing atmosphere that was present in Chico Neto Gym, their was a buzz throughout the whole day and it was amazing to see the gym almost full and to see the passion on display by our fans. Unfortunately, this camera view caught the only section that wasn't full last Thursday night but more importantly, I'm glad I can share some of the better moments of our first match with friends and family at home as well as my many Brazilian friends who missed this match. I hope to see more and more fans throughout the year, I know I can speak for the rest of the team that we will always give our best for the beautiful city of Maringa.

Eu tenho falado muito sobre o nosso primeiro jogo e incrível atmosfera que estava presente no Ginásio Chico Neto, o seu era um zumbido durante todo o dia e foi incrível ver o ginásio quase cheio e ver a paixão em exibição por nossos fãs . Infelizmente, essa visão da câmera captou a única seção que não estava cheio na noite passada quinta-feira mas o mais importante, eu estou feliz que eu possa compartilhar alguns dos melhores momentos de nossa primeira partida com amigos e familiares em casa, assim como meus muitos amigos brasileiros que perdeu este jogo. Espero ver mais e mais fãs ao longo do ano, eu sei que eu posso falar para o resto da equipe que vamos sempre dar o nosso melhor para a bela cidade de Maringá.
PictureQuiroga ignited the fans, time after time.
He went hard and he went sharp but I was there and this will always be with me, my introduction to the Super League here in Brazil.

My arms absorbed what felt like each panel of the ball and time was lost for a moment as the ball was on a mission to the top of the dome. Time eventually caught back up as the ball found Ricardo’s hands, delivering a frozen rope overhead to Lorena and the point was ours.  It felt like championship point with the crowd’s response and just like that, I was ignited with every ounce of passion that was inside trapped inside our gym.

The game slowed down, the ball stopped rotating and every time the ball crossed the net it was coming to me, this feeling of being so engulfed by the moment was such an amazing feeling and the thrill was exemplified knowing 4,000 people wanted us to succeed with every inch of their body.

http://instagram.com/p/dnxJdNSss8/  (Video of what it looked and sounded like inside the dome)

The final ball of the match went off the block and into the stands after my failed pursuit of it, another step and we could have had a chance to even the score. It was disappointing but the overwhelming feeling was of confidence and pride. We had worked so hard leading up to the match and I know the team has worked so hard before my arrival preparing for that night, the return of Super League volleyball to Maringa. There were questions about how large the support would be but the city packed the gym, fully committing themselves to each play as if it was the last, so much so that my hearing was partially impaired at the end of the 4th set.

After the match it was an overflow of love, even though we lost in 4, I was able to stay and meet so many amazing fans, all with smiles ear to ear. I was able to speak with some and I hope by the end of the year my tongue will be much more cultured. Besides having the opportunity to train and play at such a high level, I am so excited about absorbing as much as I can with the culture here while doing my best to learn Portuguese. With the week winding to an end, I can’t help feel restless and anxious for Monday to come around and to once again have the opportunity to get better and prepare for the next time the lights come on in Chico Neto Gymnasium. 

The atmosphere was amazing, I love the passion!