Traveling with the Toreros

Gengenbacher won conference player of the week honors for her performances in the team’s wins last week. Photo courtesy of Herald-Whig Sports/Twitter

Kristen Gengenbacher | Contributor | The USD Vista
I look out the window of our charter bus, now traveling from Stockton to Moraga.
I’m thinking of ways to put athletic road trips into words — to express the chaos, the organization, the stress, the fun of it all. It’s more difficult than I thought.
Years of memories flood my head, from my first year as a scared freshman who barely spoke, to now, a senior on the volleyball team, trying to be a voice of reason and wisdom for the younger girls. I think of the relationships I’ve established from being roommates with almost everyone on the team at some point. I think of the random people in airports who have mistaken us for basketball players. I think of the strange, uncomfortable phenomenon that is seeing our coach in his flare jeans. And I realize there really is no one way to encompass all that is a road trip.


I think these phrases help sum it up, though.


“Don’t forget your IDs!”


Preparing for a four-day trip in the middle of the week is never exactly fun. Although other sports at USD are different, a typical volleyball road trip begins on Wednesdays around noon and ends Saturday nights around 9:30 p.m.

For Gengenbacher, road trips strengthen the bonds between teammates. Photo courtesy of USD Volleyball/Facebook

We fly for most of our trips, and between school, practice, and other obligations, packing is not really a priority (until 15 minutes before the bus leaves for the airport). That’s why, with our team, someone always forgets something. This past trip alone, we had teammates forget knee pads, laundry loops, and stretchy bands (bands that we use to stretch out after practice or before matches). Thankfully, someone always brings extra. Perhaps the single most important item to bring, however, is our ID’s, or passports for our players from other countries. Without them, we can’t pass through security at the airport, and the team will most likely have to run as a result of somebody’s forgetfulness.


“What time is video?”


A huge chunk of the time on the road is devoted toward our actual sport — after all, that’s why we’re there. We prepare for our matches by watching video of previous matches and competing against each other at practice.


Normally, we will have watched video on our opponent on a Tuesday before practice, fly out Wednesday, practice once we land, then eat, sleep, and repeat.
Thursdays are match days, so we watch video again, have a short practice or “serve and pass,” and play later that night.


Fridays, we travel from one school to the next, practice and watch video again, and we play on Saturday afternoons. Practice and matches on the road can be tough, as getting used to the gym or summoning the energy to compete well is challenging.


As a senior, I, along with my fellow seniors on the team, have the responsibility of leading the team — and that means working harder than anyone else and holding the rest of the team to a higher standard. That also means showing up early for video in our coaches’ hotel rooms to get a good seat on the couch or bed.


“I literally have so much homework.”


Of course, there’s also the school factor. Being on the road is often a blessing and a curse. While the down time does give us an opportunity to catch up on assignments or reading, missing multiple classes at least once a week for several weeks in a row is anything but relaxing.

The Toreros rode their two wins in the Bay Area to rise to No. 18 in national rankings entering this week. Photo courtesy of USD Volleyball/Twitter

Being in a hotel, it is tempting to nap, watch television, and zone out, but if you’re trying to maintain your academic eligibility, you better be using that down time to study. Often, younger players feel overwhelmed with missing quizzes, exams, or lectures.


Patrick, our athletic trainer, proctors a test almost every trip. By senior year, most have gotten the hang of balancing athletics and academics, but that doesn’t make it any less time-consuming or stressful. Thankfully, most professors at USD are accommodating and able to help student-athletes who are struggling with missing class.


“I’m hungry.”


This is perhaps the most uttered phrase not just among our team, but possibly with college students as a whole.


Between riding planes and getting rental cars, doing homework or taking naps, practicing and waiting for our food orders to be ready, there is a lot of room for hunger to set in. We are big women with big appetites.


Thankfully, our coaches take good care of us. We are well provided for on the road, which is possibly one of my favorite parts of traveling. I don’t have to worry about cooking my next meal or making sure I have enough energy to get me through practice. It’s built into the schedule.


“If we were stranded on an island, who’s coming out on top?”


I would be lying if I said that road trips consist only of school, sports, eating, and sleeping. Being together 24/7 leaves a lot of time for absurd, random conversations that turn into inside jokes or recurring debates.
Some are less than philosophical, like when we voted between a fresh pineapple or a really good grape. Some might be useful one day, like our discussion of what to do if you’re face-to-face with a black bear. Some reveal a lot about a person, like when a teammate thought “chaos” was pronounced “churros.”


Road trips are only as fun as the people you are with, and with this team, I’ve been very blessed.

USD Volleyball went 2-0 this past week, defeating Pacific in five sets and St. Mary’s in three sets. We also forgot to pack toothpaste (again), demanded more out of each other in practice, took three tests, caught up on sleep, read countless pages of textbooks, wrote papers, tried deep-dish pizza, and ran around the hotel trying to scare each other.


I’d call it a successful trip.


This week, USD Volleyball returns to the Jenny Craig Pavilion to take on Gonzaga on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Portland on Saturday at 12:00 p.m.