DeKALB – Ray Gooden has gotten volleyball experience all over the world.
Gooden, entering his 13th year as Northern Illinois' coach, has been to places like Europe, Japan and Brazil as either a coach or advisor.
Ever since, Gooden has been able to send his own players over to Europe to get playing experience. Earlier this month, NIU sophomore outside hitter Mary Grace Kelly became the 10th Huskie to head overseasfrom July 14 from 17 to compete in the 2014 European Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia.
Kelly was competing with Bring It Promotions' Adidas Midwest under-22 squad, which is under the umbrella of USA Volleyball.
"They're looking for certain players. They'll ask and I'll let them know I've got a player or two at these positions, can you use them this year," Gooden said. "We've had such positive exposure with some of our best players. They're very welcoming of ours to join the group."
During the tournament, Kelly's team played against teams from Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and Montenegro. There were also a total of six American teams. Kelly's Adidas Midwest team finished 2-3.
In Europe, Kelly and her teammates had to adjust to a completely different style of volleyball. It's a slower-paced game, and the ball the Europeans use floats more, where players have to be more spot on when they make contact with it.
"[The European teams] were really good. The best part about their game was their ball control, because they serve and pass, serve and pass," Kelly said. "They were really good at keeping us out of system. I know my team, we struggle with serving a lot, just because the ball likes to float out of bounds when you hit it.
"They did a good job keeping the pressure on us, and they had some big girls that could put the ball away really well. There were some very good teams there."
Kelly and her teammates also got to visit Montenegro, and went to Venice, Italy as well. One experience included cliff diving on 30- to 50-foot cliffs in Croatia.
"The trick was you just couldn't look down," Kelly said.
Gooden said getting to go overseas is a tremendous opportunity for a number of reasons.
"I think it's just the experience. Volleyball for sure, it's one thing where they can get an extra 8-12 days for volleyball activity," Gooden said. "I also think an appreciation for volleyball worldwide, an appreciation for what they have at NIU. Just the interactions they can have with not only other American players but foreign players as well. They get a chance to see the world they wouldn't get to see."