Gengenbacher named to collegiate national team

For many athletes, the chance to play for their country is one of the top honors they could possibly receive.

University of San Diego volleyball player Kristen Gengenbacher will get a chance to experience that sense of American pride this summer. Gengenbacher, a junior setter from Quincy, Ill., was one of 11 players selected for the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team.

She traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo. in early March to try out for the team, which she disclosed was her third time going through the tryout process. The announcement that she officially made the team came earlier this month, with news that Gengenbacher and the team will train and compete in Europe from July 5 to 16.

Gengenbacher described the excitement she felt after learning one day after practice that she had been named to such a prestigious team.

“I looked at my phone after we had just gotten back from weights,” Gengenbacher said. “I saw I had an email from USA Volleyball. […] The subject line said ‘USA Women’s Volleyball Collegiate National Team.’ I told my teammates, and everyone just tackled me in the locker room and gave me a big hug. It was awesome.”

Making the team will not only provide Gengenbacher the chance to train and compete alongside some elite collegiate volleyball players, it will also allow her to explore a new part of the world.

The team will take part in in the 13th Annual European Global Challenge from July 11 to 14 in Pula, Croatia, while tentatively training in Slovenia prior to the tournament.

Gengenbacher noted that she has never been anywhere on the continent of Europe.

Gengenbacher (8) celebrates with her teammates during play at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Photo courtesy of USD Toreros

“I’ve only been out of the country twice,” Gengenbacher said. “[I went to] El Salvador through the school, and my boyfriend’s family has a house in Mexico. But I’ve never been overseas or anything. We land in Italy, and I know there’s a day of sightseeing in Venice, so I’ve been asking all my friends who have gone abroad to Europe what I should try to do in that time.”

Torero volleyball head coach Jennifer Petrie spoke about this special accomplishment for one of her star players. She said that Gengenbacher playing with a national team this summer has raised her excitement about the setter’s next season at USD.

“Our program is honored to have Kristen Gengenbacher selected to play with the collegiate national team traveling to Europe this summer,” Petrie said. “She has worked tirelessly at her game, improved immensely over the past year, and we can’t wait to see what her senior year has in store for her.”

Gengenbacher admitted that being on this team will do wonders for her confidence moving forward, which Torero fans hope can result in a deep NCAA Tournament run at the end of her senior season.

She said that getting validation for her long hours in the gym helps her know that she belongs with the top flight competition that women’s collegiate volleyball has to offer.

“It definitely helps me know that I can play with the best,” Gengenbacher said. “I can bring the skills that I learn with [the USA team] back to my team [at USD] and make them better.”

Gengenbacher made sure to emphasize the importance of her team in helping her get to this point, as well as the coaching staff that constantly helped her get better.

“I really can’t reiterate enough how much my own team has helped me,” Gengenbacher said. “My coaches have helped me get to the place I am today. It’s just a really exciting time for me right now, and I can’t wait to meet all these different people and get better at my game, and then bring that back to USD and hopefully win a conference championship next year.”

During her time wearing the Torero uniform, Gengenbacher has been a part of 55 wins and four NCAA Tournament matches. She also took the court multiple times against Taira Robins-Hardy of the conference rival Brigham Young Cougars, the other setter selected for the Collegiate National Team.

“We actually met at the tryout,” Gengenbacher said. “It’ll be really fun to get to know her more. She’s always been a competitor, [so] being on the same team will be really exciting.”

When meeting with Gengenbacher and talking about her upcoming summer, the word “excitement” came up several times. Sitting in her USD volleyball crewneck sweatshirt, talking about playing in Europe with the best NCAA players the country has to offer, Gengenbacher radiated excitement and eagerness.

It was evident very quickly how much the honor means to her and how ready she is to get things going.

“[Making the team] really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there,” Gengenbacher said. “In practice, [the Collegiate National Team] was something that was always a motivating factor. It was always in the back of my mind, not only to make my team here better, but also to represent my country in a way that is very much an honor.”

While her focus will surely shift entirely to the USA team soon, knowing that Gengenbacher sees the opportunity as a way to improve her team here at Alcalá Park is something that Torero volleyball fans should embrace.

Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor