Ask any Olympic athlete and they’ll tell you; making the national team isn’t something that just happens.
Few people know this better than Hokie volleyball players Jennifer Wiker and Morgan O’Neill, who both competed in events this summer to increase their international exposure as part of a pair of U.S. volleyball programs.
Wiker recently attended the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball A2 Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, while O’Neill traveled to China with the BIP/USA Development Select Team for the second annual China/USA Challenge Invitational Tournament.
“These players are two rising stars in the sport, and for them to get the chance to get comfortable on this kind of stage is a huge honor,” said Chris Riley, volleyball head coach.
Both programs were meant to help the players get experience in an Olympic-style setting, and particularly in the case of the A2 tournament, could even serve as auditions for future national team participation.
“It was like nothing I had ever been a part of before,” Wiker said. “It really opened my eyes to how much I could improve.”
Wiker was competing against 48 other collegiate volleyball players in the tournament after being selected from an initial group of over 200 athletes. The players then trained for four days before being separated into four teams and competing against each other.
“The whole experience was really exciting,” Wiker said. “My team hadn’t done well in pool play, in fact we lost every match, but we rebounded to win the whole tournament.”
While Wiker only traveled to Ohio for her competition, O’Neill journeyed all the way to China for her tournament.
“The trip was just mind-boggling,” O’Neill said. “It gave me a chance to see how some of the top Chinese players play and prepare, which was amazing.”
During the trip, O’Neill’s team got the chance to face off against two professional Chinese teams, in addition to the Chinese Junior National Team, giving her valuable experience for her future.
“When you see people that good, it really inspires you to reach that level,” O’Neill said. “This trip really made me want to play after school.”
However, before either player leaves Virginia Tech, they each have their senior seasons to complete, and these summer experiences should be influential on their final years.
“These trips really added to their wealth of knowledge and will allow them to be much more in control and comfortable in the ACC,” Riley said. “Everything at our level should get much easier after those experiences."
Coaches believe their participation in these programs should also help raise the profile of the program as a whole.
“I think this summer gave them an understanding that the next level is attainable and brought us some relevance as well,” Riley said. “(Wiker) was out there playing next to kids from schools like UCLA, and that shows everyone that our players deserve to be here.”
Team members are hoping that this summer’s results will translate into success during the year.
“We’ve got a lot of returning starters and a lot of leadership in the locker room that people don’t always get to see,” Wiker said. “It’ll be up to us to encourage the freshman and learn from them as well if we want to succeed.”
With preseason play fast approaching, the team will have be ready to meet the challenges of the year sooner rather than later.
“The preseason will be a big test for us and have a big had in determining our RPI,” Riley said. “But everyone here is hungry to get better, and we’re focused on making the NCAA tournament next year.”