PictureBrazilian BBQ with the team.
So far my journey in brazil has been amazing, the people, the food, the culture and of course the volleyball. Even though I've been kept busy with training and matches, I've had a couple of opportunities to venture out and really see the country and the culture that Brazil has to offer.

Whether its been my trip to Paraguay to get my visa, checking out Cataratas do Iguaçu (the waterfalls intersecting Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, the beach's of Rio or the local Japanese festival, it's been such an unique and amazing opportunity.

Here is a glimpse at some of my life here in Brazil through the lens of my go pro and many, many awkward shots of myself trying to figure out how the go pro works. Hope you enjoy it!

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.
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.
(Video----> https://vimeo.com/72559390

Saturday! It finally arrived and it was an unusual feeling, having no obligations for the whole day and at the same time, having no one to hang out with, friends or family in Brazil. With my family miles away, my teammates were all gone as well, granted a free weekend to spend time with their families before our last grind into regular season.

That meant yesterday, I had my first training session alone (practically alone) Orestes, a 31 year old middle blocker stayed an extra day accompanying me on the morning lift and afternoon practice. We were matched up with one of the assistant coaches, Kiko who mixed in different conditioning drills as well as up tempo digging and serve receive, going spot to spot, leaving no time to breath, only to find the focus for the next ball. The training was great, just what I was hoping for, to end the week in stride and hungry for more come Monday.

That leaves me back to today, with no obligations and no one to really guide me throughout the day, I made a move and took to the city. Re-tracking my way back to our gym, I found out first hand how electric a Saturday afternoon can be in Maringa and how beautiful the city is as well. I can’t wait to get back to training come Monday and to take in more of the city and the people here in Maringa, Brazil.

PictureWith my savior, Maria.
Up bright and early, it’s my second day in Brazil and I can’t wait to get started. But with a little hesitation, not knowing what the early morning would bring, with my official announcement to the Brazilian media and volleyball world scheduled to take place.

So far I’ve learned with the Brazilian culture that it is okay if not acceptable to be 15, 30 minutes late but never when business is involved. So I was confused waiting for my ride outside my hotel but I had no worries, I had my ipod and I was happy groovin’ on the sidewalk, just waiting and people watching. Eventually a man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder… and spoke in Portuguese to me. “Obrigado” (sorry) I said to him.. more pokes.. and pointing to the hotel (yes) I said, (it’s a hotel) more poking and continued Portuguese, none which I could understand. At this moment, I’m starting to get a little agitated.. thinking, I’ve said obrigagdo 6+ times and I can’t help you. He finally pulls out a piece of paper that read ‘Dustin’. I carefully read it, smiled and said “como vai? vamos meu amigo” as he let out a relived smile, we were on our way as I found my driver.

We spoke a little but the connection was a couple weeks away and our journey concluded at the team’s office where we said our goodbyes as I meet up with the team’s management, who all speaks great English! Lucky me.

Off in the next car and we arrive to a huge building, Maria, (my translator for the event) her father Ricardo and our press agent, ‘Johnny’, (who might be the happiest guy I know, constantly with and engaging and huge smile across his face) lead the way inside. I take my first step inside and am on a determined line going straight towards the back wall as I hear ‘esquerda’ (left) and as my head tilts, my eyes simultaneously widen as I see 3 TV cameras and a group of anxious faces. (I think we we’re a bit late, that or they actually were excited to meet me).

As we stepped in the room, I gave my most professional “ahhh?” face, as I looked at Johnny and Maria for direction as they simultaneously gave me the international recognized “go” movement with their hands. ‘Okay’, I think to myself, as I step in front of the wall, tatted with our team name and sponsors alike and we we’re off with the first reporter stepping up, in stride with her camera man.

The questions were brief and precise and I gave long, detailed answers, oblivious to my translator’s job, making it as complicated as possible for her to remember my whole answer and to then translate to the anxious reporter. She politely and calmly let me know that she couldn’t remember everything I had to say and if I could keep my answers not so long. Another “ahh” moment followed by my first smile since walking into the press conference and an ‘obrigado’ as we continued.

The press conference lasted around 20 minutes and to conclude the festivities was compimentary deserts and coffee. Of course I stayed away from the deserts (Not wanting to disappoint Lotman and Patak, I had to keep it super diesel) but to the coffee.. yes I couldn’t wait, recharging me for the next chapter of my day.

Picture"Flav" keeping us 'SUPER DIESEL!"
After a quick coffee, I was off to meet the rest of the team at the team’s weight room, which happened to be a 24 hour fitness type workout building, 3 stories in all. The 1st floor decorated with mats, pilates equipment and a MMA netted ring, the 2nd, where we spend most of our time, complete with all the machines and free weights and the 3rd dedicated to spinning, treadmills and other ellipticals. Anyways, what I’ve been told is the club just decided to buy it one day. Amazing, right? But it’s great, state of the art equipment and a very professional coach to go along with the facility, in one my newest friends and assistant coaches Flavio, or ‘Flav”. The atmosphere is great, with all the Brazilians taking a huge amount of pride in their physical condition. Along with Acacio (our 35 year old middle) leading the charge, dj-ing classic hits from ‘The Police’ to ‘Michael Jackson’, it’s truly an unbelievable experience to be there and lucky for me, we are there every day, building a great base of strength, conditioning and flexibility as we get closer to the season.

After 4 hours of rest we were back at it again, inside the dome and the intensity and power on display was amazing. There is so much emotion and effort invested with every ball and directly after a less then desirable outcome, communication follows as we move on. It’s a perfect recipe for constant improvement, even though I still say “J’ai” (I in French) when calling for a ball, messing up everything. But I am confident my mind will catch up and the “j’ai’s” will turn into “meu” in no time. As I get back to my hotel, my day is over, no more media for now, a quick moment of relaxation and again my focus shifts to how I am going to be better tomorrow and how I can best help this team in our fight to bring home the Brazilian championship to Maringa.

Estou muito feliz de ser parte da família de Moda Maringá.

PictureThumbs up for volei
Off the plane and 24 hours later I’m here.. In Brazil.. In Maringa.. but with no luggage haha. Luckily, my ride was a very attentive and intelligent woman named Maria who spoke perfect English and was able to sort out the mess and get me on my way, with my luggage coming the next day.

Next stop was the team office, where I was able to meet a couple people associated with the team as well as Ricardinho’s mother-in-law, Carmem, who fed me right away with a delicious sample of the local fruit known to the south of Brazil. After my short meal, I was off and said my goodbyes, to be driven to practice with the team’s public relation head, named Johnny who spoke great English as well, letting me pick his brain about different Portuguese words. We were able to catch the end of the practice and as I took in the team gym, I took in a facility that is 2nd only to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. It was unreal, regarding the depth perception, replicating a dome, in one look knowing even with a kick, I could not reach the ceiling (a libero’s dream). And I was able to have my first meal, beans and rice!

PictureBeans and rice. Let's go!
I was quickly introduced to the team and then whisked away, to be checked into my hotel so I could eat once again (beans, rice and veggies) and hibernate as long as I could until the next morning. 

The morning came and 6am was 2am (back in California) so I properly hydrated myself with as much coffee as I could and was off to serve and pass by the car of my first new friend, one of the 4 assistant coaches, who’s nickname is Kiko, pronounced “Key-koo”. A big smile and a warm handshake began the car ride as he told me is aspiration to learn English, my rebuttal with my goal of speaking Portuguese. So with our trip under way, we agreed that we would help each other out with the thought of only speaking the foreign language to each other and letting the trial under fire guide our passion for speaking a new language.

The local warmth continued as I meet the 3 other passers that would train with me; Renato, Renan and Cleber. Cleber and Renato both older, guided me through the training both surprising me with amazing English, as we worked side to side receiving first floats and then spins from the machine, without a second wasted in one of the most efficient and footwork paced morning practices.

PictureClosest thing to a pyramid. The DOME!
After our training concluded, I was off with Cleber to meet the rest of the team (setters, opposites and middles) concluding their workout with our strength and fitness coach Flavio or “Flav”. As they left for their group volleyball training we began in this amazing 3 story complex, that the team bought, resembling a smaller 24 hour fitness.  After our workout, we meet back up with the opposites, setters and middles at a local university café for an amazing meal, scooping up the local fruit, veggies and again.. rice and beans.

Back to the hotel for a couple hours to rest, stretch and get on my Rossetta stone and I was ready to go again for training. My fire  was there but my mind was back in California, speaking English, if not French my mind was playing tricks on me. It was great though, efficient with a high volume and was able to get to know the other players first hand.

With the first day down and happy, excited and of course very tired. Can’t wait for day number 2, whatever happens, I know I will grind it out, finding ways to get better each day and to help this team make a huge impact in the Brazilian league this year. So happy to be here in Brazil and to be apart of the family here in Maringa.

The 1st Annual Men's PVL tournament is over with Team Florida Wave edging out myself and Team Lights Out in 4 games 19-25, 25-23, 25-22, 27-25 Tuesday night, in front of an amazing crowd at the Reno, Nevada convention center. 

It was the first time since 1987, that a Men's indoor professional event has been held in the United States, the latest attempt in 2007 by the 'American Pro Volleyball League' never making it passed the initial tryouts. This year for the inaugural Premier Volleyball League event, there was a total of 5 teams representing 5 different regions, fighting for the PVL title and 6,000 dollars.

PVL Teams
Team Florida Wave - Florida Region
Team Lights Out - Great Lakes Region
Team New England - New England Region
Norcal Premier - Northern California Region
Team Western Empire - Western New York Region

In Correlation with the Boy's Junior Olympics, the event was held throughout 4 days, drawing intrigue and many eyes of the participants of the largest boy's volleyball tournament in America. Even though this is the first event for the men, there has already been two women's events, the first in 2012 held at USA Open National Championships in Salt Lake City with 12 teams and this year in Louisville, Kentucky fielding 15 teams. As a grass roots professional volleyball league, the goal of the PVL is to eventually create a successful and sustainable indoor professional league in the US for post collegiate athletes, eventually fielding 20 women's teams and 20 men's teams. 

The event put on by the PVL President, Steve Bishop and USA Volleyball was a huge success, not only marking the first time since 1897 that professional indoor volleyball has been played in America and to make a connection with America's youth and developing role model's for the competitors at the Junior Olympics.

The event was a huge success and a great start to developing an elite-post collegiate opportunity here in the United States for America's best athletes while also creating role models for the continually growing junior volleyball community. I couldn't of ask for a better time, creating great friends, while having the opportunity to play the game I love for the first time professional here in America, in front of my friends and family. Even though, my team wasn't able to capture the first title, it was amazing to have the opportunity to be apart of this amazing event and to hopefully capture the hearts and inspire the next generation of USA volleyball. 

Special thanks again to USA volleyball and the PVL for hosting this amazing event and in hope that this is only the beginning of an amazing journey to get professional volleyball back to America once again, where it belongs.

Well, maybe not quite yet but it's a great start, today marking the first event of the PVL, or the Professional Volleyball League. 5 teams, from 5 different regions scattering some of the best American talent from coast to coast to fight for the inaugural title.

More importantly it is being held in correlation with the Boy's Junior Olympics, giving a much need exposure to the youth and the future of the sport. Even with the USA men's national team holding a #5 ranking in the world and a gold medal from Beijing, America is void of a professiona Volleyballl league. America's elite athletes are forced to leave home, sacrifice family and friends to continue their career overseas, playing anywhere from Asia, Europe or South America, leaving no trace of volleyball past the collegian level in the States.

Growing up and discovering volleyball late in my childhood I only had one goal, which was to become the best player I could be and to continue playing in college. With no connection to the national team, nor the thought of a chance to live and play volleyball professionally, there wasn't much thought to fight for an amazing life playingl volleyball after college. Today the youth of volleyball and the next generation of Olympians, get a taste of professional volleyball and hopefully a passion can grow not just in their hearts but America as well and we can bring back professional volleyball to the USA.

I'm proud to be apart of the PVL and hope this is just the start of something great in growing the game.

It's goning to be hard to miss the lime green in Reno this week.