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Representing the USA

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(Photo provided)
Kristin Hoffman (far left), a sophomore setter for Northern Illinois University from Batavia, traveled to Europe as part of the Youth National A2 volleyball program. The team competed in the 2009 Global Challenge Tournament in Pula, Croatia.

Keeping focus in summer school is never the easiest of tasks. It was near impossible this week for Kristin Hoffman.

The Batavia graduate, now a sophomore in Northern Illinois University’s women’s volleyball program, still is feeling the effects of trans-Atlantic travel. The memories accumulated overseas contributed all the more to what Hoffman described as some “spacing out” during her weather class.

Hoffman played on a team of primarily college underclassmen that competed last week in the Global Challenge Tournament in Pula, Croatia. She was selected for the team after trying out at the U.S. Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hoffman’s team finished 7-1 in the tournament while playing competition from Italy, Croatia, Romania and one other American team.

Of all the high points, Hoffman said a rousing chant of “USA” from her team’s bench toward the end of the last match stands out most.

“It was like chills running through my spine at that point, just a completely crazy feeling knowing you’re representing your country instead of a club team or your school or your college,” Hoffman said. “Those three letters on the back of your jersey mean so much more.”

Geneva senior Megan Odenthal originally was slated to be part of the team, too, but Odenthal tore her ACL at an AAU volleyball tournament in June. That meant Hoffman was the only setter on the team so she played virtually the entire tournament.

The heavy playing time suited Hoffman fine, although endurance became a factor considering the 90-degree weather and gymnasiums without air conditioning.

“We’re so spoiled here with air conditioning and everything meeting our perfect needs. ... They’re used to it but we definitely weren’t,” Hoffman said. “The second we walked into the gym for practice the first day we had to grab the towels from our hotel room because we were so sweaty.”

Hoffman’s family accompanied her on the trip. Her father, Tom, said Kristin enjoyed mingling with the international opposition. Members of Hoffman’s team traded shirts with their European rivals.

“Even though a lot of them didn’t speak a lot of English they seemed to communicate well in the volleyball language,” Tom Hoffman said. “But she really enjoyed the camaraderie with both her team and the European teams.”

Going into tryouts in Colorado, Hoffman figured her chances were “zero to none” of making the cut, thinking her height (5-foot-7) would spell trouble. But the 18-year-old Hoffman – she skipped a grade in elementary school – received the good news out of a tryout pool of more than 100 players that included St. Charles North product Maddie Hughes and two other NIU teammates.

Although the tournament took place in Croatia, the team started by training in Switzerland, and finished the vacation with sight-seeing in Venice, Italy.

It was Hoffman’s first visit to Europe. She said the history and scenery in Europe, especially Venice, were breathtaking.

“The pictures that I took just don’t seem real to me at all,” Hoffman said. “Every time I’d take one I’d say this isn’t real, this is what I see in magazines or picture books or something. It was crazy to think I had taken them myself.”

Hoffman’s NIU teammates gave her a carry-on purse as a pretrip gift that included a travel journal, photo album, sunglasses and gum for the plane rides. She put the journal to good use, and said one of her teammates on the U.S. team was taken aback by the thoughtfulness of her college teammates.

Hoffman, a part-time starter as a freshman, hopes to repay the Huskies with a big sophomore season. The experience from Europe should factor in.

“I think it helps my leadership ability hopefully, being with a new team but having to get everyone to work together as a setter,” Hoffman said. “That’s one of my most important jobs. I hope to bring that with me into our preseason in two weeks.”

By then, Hoffman should be at her best again in the classroom, too.

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