(Photo: courtesy of the FIVB at http://www.fivb.org/)
We spent this World League final weekend in Varna, Bulgaria. Allow me to talk a little about my history in Bulgaria.
My first trip to Bulgaria was to Sofia with my professional team 2 years ago. It was in the winter, our team had a CEV (Championship European Volleyball) match, and we played in Sofia. The gym was not updated at all, and although the hotel was nice, the city itself was very depressing. Although Bulgaria had just joined the EU, it sure did not feel that way being in Sofia.
Arriving in Varna with our USA team was a whole new experience. Varna is the largest port city in Bulgaria situated on the Black sea. It was of course summer time, and fun and enjoyment was all around. We stayed in an amazing huge resort near the Black Sea with 3 huge pools and sun cabanas abound. That all in all feel of vacation was all around us. Bulgarians and other tourists were proud to walk around the hotel in nothing more than a speedo with flip flops.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, there was not a huge urgency to win these last two matches of our pool because we had secured our place in the final round in Rio the previous weekend. However, quite a few of the guys (myself included after returning from a week in Bloomington where I sprained my foot during the match) going to the Olympics were here to get some serious playing time. Four of our main starters rested and stayed in the USA, therefore that gave a lot of us time to really get dialed in playing full time again.
Fortunately, we did not disappoint. We really took a fully loaded Bulgaria team (all there players) in Bulgaria and pushed both matches to the limit. The first night we barely lost in five, and the second we lost in the 4th by just a hair. But we really fought, hung tough, and all in all got better as a team. Sure we lost, but believe me...it was a powerful loosing weekend.
I want to say just one last thing people may be wondering about us. No we are by no means famous in the USA. In fact, most people here do not know the most famous volleyball player in the world is an American named Karch Kiraly. However, volleyball players in a lot of countries around the world are famous. As famous as an NBA player, MLB, or famous NFL quarterback. It's no joke. So when we go to these countries, like Bulgaria this last weekend, where the volleyball players are really famous, it's a neat yet weird realization for us American players. We kinda scratch our heads and say, "they know you because you play volleyball?" We are rushed by crowds of people in public places, and mobbed for pictures and autographs outside matches. It's as if some of us are part time celebrities, just not in our home country. Just as well, fame is not meant for the faint of heart!
Gabe Gardner is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.