In Their Words: Ashley Dusek

"In Their Words” is an exclusive, two-part series covering Kentucky volleyball players Kaz Brown and Ashley Dusek’s experiences with Team USA’s volleyball training programs this summer. Brown was a member of the Collegiate National Team’s China tour, while Dusek participated in the Collegiate National Team training program in Indianapolis. 

The Tryouts:

In February, Kaz [Brown], Darian [Mack] and I decided to try out for the USA Collegiate National Team (CNT) in Colorado Springs at the US Olympic Training Center.

I knew coming in that having the experience from trying out last year would be very helpful. For liberos, you don't get seen as much as you would as an outside hitter or a middle attacker. One major key that helped me stand out was by communicating with teammates and being more involved with giving out information. Last year really helped me to be a better communicator and still be a great teammate. By knowing what to expect, I felt I had a better shot of being that player that the USA team coaches were looking for.

The tryout process can be overwhelming the first time through. You don't really know how well you are doing through the coaches’ eyes. All you can do is give your all. One of the toughest parts for me is that I always like to know everyone I'm playing with and their names, which is tough with so many people trying out. To achieve that, I had to be even more vocal as a defender. I may not have been with the same people every time, but I had to show my presence each time I stepped on the court. 
Throughout the tryouts, you definitely have your frustrations. It was great having Kaz and Darian there to talk through it and vent a little. We had some of the same feelings through the process so we were able to pick each other up. At the same time, in reality, all you can do is your best and having them there to remind me of that was really reassuring. 

The Moment:

When I found out about making the team for the CNT training program, I was pumped, but also a little disappointed.  I was originally notified that I was an alternate for the team so I would not actually be training with the rest of the team in Indianapolis. As a fierce competitor, I always want to be with the best and play the best.  Fortunately, one of the girls declined the offer and I was offered a spot. I got over the initial let-down of being an alternate and decided to make the most of my opportunity on the team. I wanted to prove to them that I deserved to be there. 

The Team USA Experience:

I arrived pretty early on June 21st for check-in in Indiana at the campus of DePauw University, just outside Indianapolis. With check-in running until around 3 p.m., I was able to take some time to get to meet some of my potential future teammates or my competition as they arrived.  This was very helpful. During this time, I also got to know a few of our UK rivals better.  A few girls from Louisville were there and it was cool to get to meet them and some of our out-of-conference opponents. As intense as things may get on the court, they're a great group of girls and it was good getting to know them.

We had our first training session that afternoon, one of many in the few days we spent at DePauw. We competed in a minimum two sessions every day, just hashing everything out, getting the hang of Team USA's system and where they wanted the rotations to be and their mental approach to the game. All 36 of the players got mixed into different groups and we learned every detail we could about the team's system.

During the final day at DePauw, the coaches had a draft to pick their squads for the upcoming tournament. They made sure to keep things fun, as the coaches played ridiculous games to figure out who would get the first draft pick and the order in which they would pick their players. I got picked by Kayla Cole and Dennis Janzen who work with the Team USA staff as a part of their Red team. The coaching staff really made it a priority that we all had a great experience.

The biggest adjustment for me during training was positioning. All my life I've played left-back as a libero, but Team USA wants their liberos playing middle-back. It was a big transition. I sometime struggle to stay still and I know I can be a little antsy, so initially it was frustrating. As the practices and matches went on, I was more appreciative knowing I was becoming more disciplined and that these little changes will help me improve in my position.

Once we selected teams, we moved down to IUPUI near downtown Indianapolis where we had practice sessions before starting the tournament. We would be playing on center court at the US Junior National Tournament in the Indiana Convention Center.  

After my first day of playing in the tournament I was admittedly a bit shaky. A lot of the members from my old club team were there for Junior Nationals and I wanted to make a good impression. Once I got past the nerves and remembered it was just volleyball, I settled down.  Amie Held, our other libero, had been there last season and she got the start for the first set. It was a bit of a downer - you always want to start - but I understood why and I progressively got better. It just gave me more motivation to prove to the coaches once again that I deserved to be there.  

My team lost our first match in five, sending us down to a two-match elimination game against the White team. We won the first match, which gave us a nice confidence boost after seeing their offense and game plan in action. In the semifinal match, we played the White team again and swept them, before heading to the championship game against the Blue team. We normally alternated in between sets, but during the championship game, she played both the first and second set. After we dropped the first two sets, I played in the final three and did really well. I knew I had to embrace the opportunity I was given even though I didn't get to play in the second set, and honestly, I think it's some of the best volleyball I've ever played. We ended up losing in five sets, but it was an awesome experience and some great volleyball.

Over the time in Indianapolis, I became pretty close with Amie, who plays libero for the University of Northern Iowa. She and I had a great connection. She's the nicest person and we never ran into issues about playing time, we just wanted what was the best for the team. We'd critique one another and there were no hard feelings - just us trying to get better. It felt like we had been friends for a long time. Having that connection with someone in your position is special, and I can't wait to see her when we play them during the out-of-conference season.

I think some of the biggest lessons I learned from my time with Team USA were about being the best teammate I can be. You can't get down when you're not doing well because other people need you. Even when you're not physically on the court, you can still help your team out. It was an adjustment for me only being on the court 50% of the time compared to here at Kentucky. I can't give enough credit to the girls who come off the bench and come in cold. It's hard to make an impression when you're not warm and ready to go.

After this year's experience I definitely hope to be invited back to try out again next year. I learned a lot, improved as a player, and think I can go even further next time.

- Ashley Dusek