When on October 22nd the “Invincible Busto Army” sank the former Italian champion Scavolini Pesaro with a resounding 3-0, Carli was about to join the Italian club coached by Carlo Parisi and to start her brand new adventure as a professional volleyball player. Two months passed before I personally had the chance to see her in action, and...who could imagine that despite the very short lapse of time, the American setter would be able to fit-in so perfectly with the patterns of the Butterflies? Indeed, Busto's victory over their arch-enemy Villa Cortese was thanks to Carli Lloyd's great management of her attackers. But how did she succeed in doing that without even speaking Italian? What is her secret? Hard work and a little help in Italian: “I was a bit worried about the fact that when I arrived in Busto the championship had already started. Actually, I had come for 10 days at the beginning of September before the games began, and I could tell at once that the standard was very high here and that my team was really good. I understood that I needed to be there to do my job at best but I couldn't: so, when I was in the US I was worried to stay behind and that I would need a hard work to catch up to everyone...but eventually, everything turned out well. My team is simply great; we have a good chemistry and we support each other very much. We are doing some great hard work. Honestly, coming to the team, in the beginning, it was tough, especially because of the language barrier, but Helena Havelkova speaks excellent English and so she helped me a lot. Moreover, Aneta, Floortje and Christina all speak very good English - they are my attackers so it is important that we understand each other. But I am getting a little better in Italian. Helena is giving me lessons and I'm doing a course at an Italian school: I'm learning my verbs, but not every day, as I am mentally tired from trainings and stuff. Moreover, my family is often here and when they're around ...I don't study much. The first sentences I've learnt are the ones I hear most often during my day and as a consequence they are linked to the volley world. These are “Vai raga” or “andiamo”! I love them! I came here with a very opened mind and I knew that it was going to be hard, but to play with them I have to give 100 percent. Thus, I have been very active during the training sessions: I have asked several questions, I responded to the girls and tried to do everything I was asked...I did everything to make the transition easier and it worked. Like I said before, the thing I love the most about this group is the chemistry we have on court together. I really feel we trust and support each other. Yamamay is like a family and I have a lot of fun with them: I think this is very important aspect as when you play professionally having fun is not always easy, 'cause it is your job, you are getting payed and there is always a lot of pressure on you and your game. We are doing a very good job in balancing the stress, the fun and the concentration match after match”.
The perfect chemistry with her team-mates is indeed the key to the perfect first round by Busto who won all matches by showing great confidence and cool even in particularly crucial instances. This is the case of the derby against Villa Cortese in December where Busto won for 3 sets to 1 and Carli put on court one of her best performances so far: “I've thought often about what is the key, the secret of such a winning group and I've come to the conclusion that there is not a single element: I think that we work very hard and play every match as if it was the most important and we work to get our minds always ready for each game. So, in the derby, I didn't feel much more pressure than in the other matches: it didn't make any difference in this sense. But being in the gym and seeing our opponents on the other side of the net and having three quarter of the seats full with their supporters... well, sure it made me a bit nervous. It was a unique and magical atmosphere though and I love playing in such surroundings 'cause it's competitive and there's history behind it. Sure I felt the pressure of the moment but I didn't let it to affect me emotionally because it was simply another game we got to win”.
While the biggest dream of many Italian young people would be to ride a motorbike or a convertible along the Californian valleys, for the young Californian player the highest desire was playing in an Italian club. In fact, according to Carli, playing in a very competitive league would allow her to improve as a player and to reach her lifetime goal: playing at the Olympic Games: “Frankly, I didn't know the Italian league very well. The only reason I knew about Busto volley team was because last April I went to Catania to watch the Final Four of Coppa Italia and I watched them playing, but I didn't know much about the team or the players there. I was there 'cause I wanted to play in Italy and my agent suggested that I go there and watch the finals. I had other offers but for the final choice, I trusted my agent the most as he is from Italy and he knows the league very well: he was my main source as I didn't know any athletes at the time. What I did it was asking him about the staff of the teams and if they were caring about their athletes and whether they were being competitive in this season...Busto was matching all my requirements. Thus, I was really excited when I got the call from them. Moreover, when I was in college my biggest dream was to play in Italy but I didn't think this opportunity would come so soon: it was a dream come true for me. Here the level of the game is higher and faster than in US college league: there is much more defense on the two sides of the net, much more coverage involved and stronger players. In college volleyball there are very few athletes who can jump so high and hit so strong: in the Italian league I see that there are more players who can do that and there is much more fast-paced volleyball going on. I think that moving from the US college league to the Italian one is like going from high school to college: stepping to an upper level. For all these reasons, I felt honored to be offered such an opportunity”.
Sure, going to Italy to play in one of the best teams of this season was an exciting chance for Carli; but moving from the sunny California Golden Coast to the foggy and “freezing” Busto Arsizio in the Northern Italy had some “cloudy” sides too: “Berkeley is very different from Busto: here it's freezing! I miss being able to go outside in the sun walking around and being warm without being bundled up in covers and being in the sun. Here I feel that anytime I want to stay in the sun I have to be covered. And I miss the ocean. Other than that, I love being here: the food is great and I have adjusted very well and I can easily find things that we have also in the US. There aren't may things I miss. I love the city, my apartment and the Palayamamy is beautiful. What really shocked me, though, was the Italian-style-driving: here it's dreadful! I hate it. The streets and the street signs are very different from California: sometimes there are no lines on the road and I never know where I can or can't drive. I have been pulled-over by the police very often and they gave me a ticket for driving in the city that doesn't make sense to me. This is a real cultural shock!” - said Carli amused telling me this little anecdote - “The hardest part of coming here was leaving my family, not having them close to me: not that I was close to them in college either, but the thought of having my family so many miles away, at a 15-hour-flying distance, drives me crazy.”.
Family is in fact a very important value in the life of this athlete and a key factor in her career as a professional player: her mother Cindy used to be an assistant volleyball coach at Fallbrook High School the very same that Carli attended under the supervision of her uncle, Galen Tomlinson who had a central role in Carli's life and sport curriculum: “ my family is the most important thing for me: I phone and see my family everyday now that I am abroad through Skype. It's not that I depend on them: I like being here and I can deal with being alone; I just want to stay in contact with my family as much as possible. So, I guess I can say that I'm a family oriented person, extremely caring of the people I love. Moreover, family and sport have a string connection in my life. My uncle, for instance, had an important role in my career. He's been part of our family since I was four and he basically raised me with my mom. He was my coach while I was doing basketball, track and field and volleyball: he has basically been my coach and mentor in all the sports I did and I can say that I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. He got me started in this sport as he was my coach since I was 11 years old in middle school until I left for Italy. He never missed a match; he taught me everything I know and now when I see that I am doing something in the wrong way, he's the first person who comes to my mind: I hear his voice telling me what I should do to correct it. He believed in me whenever I struggled and he pushed me to be the best I could be; I think he is the best coach I could ever have had. When I think about my first steps in volleyball I think about him: the very first time I touched the ball was in my driveway with my uncle. He would stand with me on my driveway for hours just tossing me the ball and teaching me how to pass and how to set the ball every single day. That is how I learnt to play. I started playing in a team in 6th grade when I was 11 years old: my mum and my uncle both taught in the school where I started and they also taught my sister, my brother and my cousin who all attended the same school. I wanted to be like my siblings and I wanted to try the same sport and I liked it. I had already played basketball and did track and field for many years before choosing volleyball. For the majority of my childhood I did volley and track and feel at the same time, but at a certain point I had to chose one or the other because of time constraints: so, I chose volley as I liked the team aspect of it and enjoyed playing it with my team-mates instead of competing on my own”.
We could say that for the Lloyds, volleyball was a family matter. From the home driveway in Bonsall the career of the Californian setter developed until joining the national selection in 2011 directly from college and without any huge winning in the NCAA volleyball league but with the AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) award as “best player of the year” in 2010. “In my career I haven't played always as a setter. From 11 to 16 years old, in fact, I was both setter and opposite: so I used to hit too. I actually covered nearly every role before my club coach told me that if I wanted to play in college as a great setter I had to focus only on setting without no more hitting... and so I did. In high school we went to the Junior Olympics for 3 years in a row although we never won: it was hard for me 'cause we always thought that we would. We were a very good team and I was playing with one of my best friend, Julienne Faucette who plays in Urbino now. I never won the championship in high school or college either: I was never a big time winner athlete in the US! I went to college in Berkeley in Norther California and I really enjoyed my time there: with my team, the Bears, I played two Final Four and, in my senior year, one championship final. I remember my freshman year we played Nebraska, who were the running champions and we beat them to reach the Final Four. It was the most incredible match I have ever played. In senior year we played twice USC and lost to them both the matches. But when we played them again in the semifinals to reach the final championship, we beat them and that was a great victory. In the summer I also joined the national selection: being part of the national team has been an important step in my career 'cause it meant taking the next step. It's very hard training every day and you are on court with players who played and are going to play soon in the Olympic Games. The amount of pressure you are under is constantly high as you have to play well in order to be in the gym every day. It was important for me to be there just to hear the feedback the coaches give to the players, to hear the ultimate techniques I had to work on to improve. As my ultimate goal is to play in the Olympic Games one day, so it was important for me to be there soon after my college years so that I had already experience with the national team. Moreover, it was an important transition before entering my first professional team in Italy: I feel that if I had gone directly from college to a professional team, it would have been different and maybe more difficult. So, I am very glad I spent time with the national selection. Although I never played a match with these players, I was on the court practicing with them, especially with the two players I admire the most: Logan Tom and Stacy Sycora. They are high profile players and highly respected ones: it was an honor to play with them”.
Thanks to this experience, Carli was then ready to take over the reins of her new team. But experience alone means nothing without a great motivation and hard work. And this girl had the right attitude and devotion to make it. “I always want to get better: honestly, I've come to Italy 'cause I want to improve and be in a good volleyball league where I could learn. I feel that I have already taken some steps towards bettering my defense and in running my attack and setting. Also, I want to win the Italian and the CEV championship and I firmly believe that my team can do it. These are my team's goals but I set them for myself as a part of this team: if I want to do something I am 100 percent dedicated to it. On the court I'm very competitive and I have high expectations about the people who are around me and about myself. I believe that it is important to make good decisions in life as on court, and so, as a setter, I try to make the best decisions for my team. I feel I'm a very supportive team-mate: when I do criticize, it is always in a constructive way, especially to the people I care the most about. I am used to speaking with the others members of my team and being a vocal leader: it's hard but I don't feel the pressure of this role. I'm eager and anxious to get better and improve: in a sense, it's a more personal kind of pressure rather than the one that surrounds you during a match. In fact, I 'm also very hard on myself and I always feel I can do more and I always want more. That could be a bad aspect of my character 'cause I feel that I have never done enough; but, at the same time this attitude allows me to work harder and harder. It's not a terrible thing but I think that I could be better on that”.
A hard worker, focused on each match, devoted to her team and sport: the perfect combination that makes Carli Lloyd one of the most admired and interesting setters of this season. But what would this Californian athlete be if not a professional volleyball player? “This is an difficult question. I always wanted to be a teacher for young children: I love kids and I love working with them. You know, I want to have children and to be a mum very badly. I could go back to school to earn a bachelor degree in education; or, with my degree in welfare, I'm really considering to be a family or marriage psychologist . I would like to help families so that children can live in a better context and be raised in a family where they can have the right love and support 'cause I believe that this is the most important aspect for a child”. But this future is still far away in Carli's life. The season is still long and about to enter its most challenging and competitive part. As the master of her “invincible army”, it is Carli's duty to manage her fleet at best to bring Busto at the top of the Italian volley league.
The original article together with the picture are published on the Jan 2012 number of Pallavoliamo. Picture by Max Ciuba for Pallavoliamo.it