AMES, Iowa – Leading a team of players she didn’t know, in a country many of them had never been to, former Cyclone all-American Alison Landwehr faced tough challenges while gaining valuable experience as captain of the BIP/USA Development Team that traveled to Shanghai and Beijing, China last month to play in tournaments in both cities.
“I was the captain of our team so I had a lot of responsibility on and off the floor,” Landwehr said. “I learned a lot about myself by trying to bring our team together in just a little under two weeks. [We had] four practices before our first competition so it was much different than playing with a seasoned collegiate team that works together year-round. I was surprised with how quickly we seemed to know each other but being thrown into a country you have never experienced with 12 strangers may be the best way to accomplish that.”
In addition to the growing pains of learning each other’s games in a short period of time, the American athletes also had to adjust to a different ball and to drastically fewer substitutions while playing at the international level.
“Playing at the international level allowed me to experience the different ball, which is smaller and moves a lot more than in college volleyball,” Landwehr said. “There are also only six substitutions [per set, as opposed to 15 per set in NCAA play], so players are forced to play all the way around. It was challenging playing with girls who had not played all the way around before, but I learned a lot about trying to make the most out of the strengths of our team and recognizing what we had to do to be successful.”
Raising the bar even further, the BIP/USA squad played four of China’s top-five volleyball teams during the two tournament trip.
“We played the first, second, fourth and fifth-place teams in China, and [against] four Olympians throughout the two tournaments,” the reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year said. “It was amazing to see the discipline of the Chinese teams. The teams played at a much faster pace and served extremely aggressive.
“In China, it is decided when you are young that you will be a volleyball player,” Landwehr continued. “They train for six to eight hours a day and follow very strict rules. If they are successful, their lives and their families’ lives are better. It made me appreciate how I am able to play for the love of the game and not because of outside pressures.”
Off the court, Landwehr and her teammates had time to sightsee and soak up the Chinese culture, leaving the St. Louis, Mo. native with new friendships and experiences she would not otherwise have.
“It is nearly impossible for me to share with everyone how amazing this trip was and how it really opened my eyes to so much,” Landwehr said. “I think, aside from the people and the volleyball, what made the trip so amazing was visiting Beijing and the Great Wall of China. You see pictures of the Great Wall but cannot imagine how immense and wonderful it is until you walk it and look around.”
However, the traditional Chinese fare was an experience Landwehr was happy to leave to the more adventurous players on the team.
“My least favorite part of the trip was definitely the food,” Landwehr noted. “My teammates and I joked that we were eating things and we had no idea what they were, but that was very accurate. I did try turtle, eel, and grub. Some things ended up being great, but most of the time I ended up sticking to a diet of rice, eggs, and toast.”
Interacting with the Chinese people also offered a new experience. Although Landwehr is used to being recognized by fans from her days traveling with the Cyclones, the Americans were given star treatment overseas.
“The Chinese people were so nice to us, and we were treated like celebrities,” Landwehr said. “They were fascinated by our height and our skin and asked to take pictures with us constantly. They had soldiers, flowers and banquets with singing and dancing to greet us. They were so inviting and wanted to show us how excited they were for us to be there. Even walking around, we met a lot of great people even though we could not understand most of them. It is amazing how much you can communicate without speaking the same language.”
China will not be the final overseas stop for Landwehr, who announced she will continue her playing career in Europe.
“I am very excited to finally tell everyone that I will continue my volleyball career,” Landwehr announced. “I will be playing professional volleyball in Valenciennes, France with the Hainaut volleyball club; I will leave in early August and return sometime in May. I am so excited about the opportunity to combine my loves of travelling, experiencing new things and volleyball all into one.”
Landwehr is one of growing number for former Cyclones who have traveled overseas in the last few years. Most notably, setter Kaylee Manns, who began playing professionally in 2011.