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The Kentucky volleyball team's time in China is running short, so the Wildcats navigated a packed schedule on Tuesday.
The morning began with breakfast before UK's final match in China. Facing a Beijing team that featured former AVCA Player of the Year and Oregon outside hitter Alaina Bergsma, the Cats dropped a tough one.
Last match of the trip tmrw morning vs #7 team in China pro league, Hyundai Beijing. #UKVBtoChina-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) June 2, 2014
Next competition after Beijing?...Aug 29th, 1st match of '14 season in Memorial w full roster including Ashley, Darian, and Kaz. Can't wait!-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) June 2, 2014
In the evening, the Cats gathered for a closing dinner at an Italian restaurant to recap the trip and say thank you to the hosts and guides who made it all possible. On Wednesday, it's back to America. UK's flight will leave in the afternoon and, oddly, land in Chicago around the same time.
We should have more on the trip in the coming days and weeks, but this will be the last official entry from an incredible experience for the UK volleyball team. Thank you for following along!
Before we let you go, check out this video from a couple days ago of UK's karaoke night.
The Wildcats toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and shopped at the Silk Market in an informative day for the team. Taking advantage of the more the 1,700 retail vendors, the Cats bought plenty of keepsakes from the trip and gifts for friends and family.
Afterward, it was time for some rest because UK has a big day ahead on Monday. The Cats will tour the Great Wall and visit the Olympic Village from the 2008 games.
Have an exciting day to look forward to tomorrow in Beijing: Great Wall, Olympic Village, and Bird's Nest #ukvbtochina-- Lauren O'Conner (@LaurenOC12) June 1, 2014
Adjust they did.
It started against Hebei, the same team that downed the Cats on Tuesday, 3-1. On Friday, UK reversed that tally with a 3-1 victory. Sara Schwarzwalder and Shelby Workman led the way, with Workman tallying a team high in kills and hitting over .300.
UK sustained the momentum on Saturday. In spite of falling behind two sets to one, the Cats rallied to victory. Their coach was pleased with the way his team battled in Zhangjiakou, while the players couldn't help but notice a group of fans in attendance.
Good win for us today in 5 sets after being down 1-2. Mentally we wavered, but pushed through at the end. #UKVBtoChina-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) May 31, 2014
We finished the tournament 2-2, winning the last two.Very good competition & close matches.Definitely a good experience for us #UKVBtoChina-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) May 31, 2014
Playing against professionals in this tournament was invaluable. They will not give you anything. It's all earned.-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) May 31, 2014
This trip continues to amaze me. The team just had friendly scrimmage w a local club.Prob 30-40 media including 2 TV stations. #UKVBtoChina-- Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) May 31, 2014
We legit had a Chinese biker gang come to our match...😳😎-- Kelsey Wolf (@bigbad_wolf21) May 31, 2014
I didn't wake up this morning thinking we would play a match in front of a Chinese motorcycle gang...but it happened. #UKVBtoChina-- Anders Nelson (@VBDers) May 31, 2014
The Cats managed to sneak in some sightseeing around their matches, going for an evening hike.
UK's cultural exchange trip to China is now about to enter its final leg. The Cats will travel to Beijing for a three-day stop before they head home on June 4.
So excited to go to Beijing tomorrow!-- Lauren O'Conner (@LaurenOC12) May 31, 2014
And after Beijing means 🏠 😁☺️-- Lauren O'Conner (@LaurenOC12) May 31, 2014
The Wildcats traveled six hours through the Yin Mountains to Zhangjiakou. The city is still home to nearly a million people, but Zhangjiakou is much more remote. Once the Cats arrived and got settled, they went for a hike on which they saw parts of the Great Wall and a garden with statues of all the Chinese zodiac signs.
For dinner, the Cats spent time with the three teams they'll be competing with in Zhangjiakou. It was a chilly night, so all four squads joined together for a post-dinner bonfire that featured dancing and karaoke.
Our team did an amazing job crossing the language barrier last night w the pro teams...singing and dancing at the bonfire. #UKVBtoChina— Craig Skinner (@UKCoachSkinner) May 30, 2014
@UKCoachSkinner Completely awesome!— Kelli Elam (@klelam) May 29, 2014
On Friday, the Cats will rematch with Hebei in front of what is expected to be a big crowd. Continue to check UKVBtoChina.com for updates.
As the Wildcats continue their cultural exchange trip to China, they went to a small town outside of Baoding to visit a museum. The museum was entirely dedicated to the tunnel system the Chinese built to avoid Japan's invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which took place before and eventually as part of World War II.
The museum even afforded the Cats the opportunity to walk through one of the tunnels for more than a half-mile. With the majority of players and coaches standing over six feet tall, they all learned the tunnel system was not built for a volleyball team.
Later on Wednesday evening, the Cats returned to more familiar surroundings for a match against Hebei, another team from the Chinese Volleyball League. In an environment similar to Tuesday's, UK fell, 3-1, in spite of playing well. Lauren O'Conner was the headliner, tallying 19 kills and 23 total points, but the experience of Hebei was too much to overcome even as Jackie Napper and Alyssa Gergins turned in solid matches.
On Thursday, more travel is in store for the team as the Cats will depart Baoding for Zhangjiakou. Continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com for updates.
Got an early morning tomorrow headed to Zhangjiako, our last city before we go to Beijing! 🏯🇨🇳🉐 #UKVBtoChina-- Lauren O'Conner (@LaurenOC12) May 28, 2014
On Tuesday, the Wildcats took on the Henan team from the Chinese Volleyball League. The result -- a 3-1 loss -- didn't end up going their way, but the match was extremely competitive.
Lauren O'Conner and Morgan Bergren were standouts, thriving in a loud environment for the evening match. UK and Henan played on campus at a local university in Baoding in front of a loud, volleyball-savvy crowd comprised of nearly all students. Check out the two videos below to get a glimpse of the environment.
The rest of the day, the Cats took it easy, relaxing at their hotel and making a quick walk to a nearby mall in Baoding.
We've had limited access to Twitter, but the trip to China has been incredible so far. Truly a once in a lifetime experience! #UKVBtoChina-- Kentucky Volleyball (@KentuckyVB) May 27, 2014
On Monday, the Wildcats took a big step in the right direction.
Before a lengthy afternoon of traveling, UK took on the Jiangsu Junior Team on Monday morning. Led by Kayla Tronick and Emily Franklin, the Cats found the form that has established them among the nation's elite in Craig Skinner's tenure as head coach.
"I thought my performance was good but not great," Emily Franklin wrote. "There are things I need to improve on and that will take time while adjusting to the different style of play. Overall, I felt like I did give it to my team!"
UK is adjusting to a new pregame ritual while in China that features meditation, as well as the lighter balls used there.
After the match and lunch, it was off to Baoding, a smaller city of about two million people, via bullet train and bus. In transit for the better part of the afternoon, the Cats didn't have time for much more than a short walk around a bright downtown area and dinner.
The team did, however, take time to write their thoughts about their time in China so far for a blog dedicated to their trip. Here are a few thoughts from the student-athletes themselves:
So far this China trip for me has been interesting in a good way. I have learned so much and a lot of the questions I had about China I have been able to answer myself just by observing the cities and the people around me. The sightseeing has been incredible. There is so much more in our world that we do not know about and I am enjoying the opportunity we have right now to experience it. Besides the food (which is not horrible, just different) my time in China has been a blast.
I have been surprised by the differences in our lifestyles compared to those living here. Not necessarily the lifestyles but the differences in the environment, the food, everything really. I was shocked by the way people drive idiotically through the streets and the food has been a huge challenge for me because I have not been able to eat much at all. I really enjoyed visiting the temple, but I would also like to visit other places that are interesting but not necessarily dealing with their religion.
China has been interesting so far. I am really enjoying seeing the city and the culture. I am disappointed in the food and wish that it were more appealing to me. However, I really am having a good time learning and observing the Chinese way of life and seeing the things that we were taught in class firsthand. So far I have had a great time bargaining for souvenirs and trying the exotic foods! I would like to learn more about the history of the temples that we visit. I wish there was more English at the temple so that I could understand more of what I am seeing.
It began with practice at a training center in Nanjing before a lunch the team very much enjoyed. After four days of trying authentic Chinese food, the Cats ate at a Western-style restaurant. Burgers, fries, pasta cheesecake and coffee never tasted so good.
Well fed, the team then went to a museum in Nanjing for an educational tour. In the first picture at the bottom of the post, you can see the jade suits put together gold thread in which some members of the upper class were buried.
For dinner, it was back to authentic Chinese cuisine. The Cats ate with the heads of the training center where they are staying in Nanjing and exchanged gifts. The final second photo below shows Craig Skinner giving a UK volleyball t-shirt to one of the Cats' hosts.
Monday is set to be another busy day for UK. The Cats will play a match in the morning before traveling by train from Nanjing to Beijing and then by bus to Baoding. Check back in on Monday for an update on UKVBtoChina.com.
Game tomorrow morning at 9:30 vs Nanjing-- Jackie Napper (@jackieNaps15) May 25, 2014
The team then checked into its new hotel. The Cats were impressed.
Along the way, the players got some attention from locals and met a volleyball great.
Just reached Nanjing and I'm in heaven. Nicest hotel I've ever seen in my life-- Jackie Napper (@jackieNaps15) May 24, 2014
UKVBtoChina.com to stay updated. A big day of sightseeing is ahead of Sunday, so we hope to have plenty of good stuff to share.