Minnesota Duluth volleyball coach Jim Boos tells his players about trips they can take each summer, but it is rare for anybody to take up the offer because it is expensive and time-consuming.
Not Allison Olley.
When Olley heard about the opportunity to compete in Brazil, she was all in.
Olley is back to lead the Bulldogs this fall after competing in Brazil in late May and early June with USA Division II Volleyball Teams.
"It was a lot of fun," Olley said. "I was really thankful I got the opportunity to go. I was the only player from our conference, but there were other players from our region. I loved meeting all the girls. I've got more friends to follow now throughout the season."
UMD had its first practice of the season Monday, the same day the American Volleyball Coaches Association's NCAA Division II poll was released. The Bulldogs checked in at No. 7 after a 25-5 season.
The NSIC boasted five teams in the top 10 and seven in the top 25, including top-ranked and defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul (35-2).
"Everyone knows who is at the top of this league, so nothing has changed there," said Boos, who is 412-75 going into his 16th season at UMD. "I think the challenging part of the league is that it's gotten a lot deeper. You can count down to eight, nine, 10, and you're talking about teams that are top-30, top-40 quality, that on any given night can beat somebody in the top 10. It's as scary as it's ever been. It's going to be a battle."
The only time UMD hasn't made the NCAA tournament during Boos' tenure was in 2015 when the Bulldogs went a real shabby 23-8 and were ranked No. 10 in the final national poll. That's how good the conference and region is. There is little room for error.
UMD opens the season against St. Anselm College on Sept. 1 as part of a tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The biggest question for the Bulldogs will be at outside hitter, with junior Makenzie Morgen, sophomore Hanna Meyer and freshman Kate Berg, an all-state performer at Wayzata (Minn.) High School, competing for the two spots.
"The three we have competing there are as talented a three as we've had at that position in a while, so it's going to be a great competition," Boos said.
Junior Sarah Kelly, second to Morgen with 323 kills last year, also is back, as is sophomore setter Emily Torve.
Olley, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Racine, Wis., returns after leading the Bulldogs with 110 blocks. The all-conference performer added 256 kills while hitting .359 to rank in the top 20 in the nation in hitting percentage. She is one of three seniors on the team.
"When we brought Allison in four years ago, she was pretty raw, pretty green," Boos said. "She didn't really understand volleyball particularly well and hadn't played very long, so to see where she's gotten, being one of the leaders on the floor, has been impressive. It's neat watching her interact with the younger players and explaining something that four years previous she had no idea what it even meant."
Olley was recruited to UMD to play volleyball, but also plays basketball for the Bulldogs. Boos said she is also an incredible softball pitcher. Olley is a secondary math education major and deaf studies minor who knows sign language. She is co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and has a 3.45 grade-point average. She will graduate in May.
"Allison is just a great athlete and great kid," Boos said. "She is an incredibly intelligent and well-rounded individual. She's kind of the mother of this team in the sense that she takes care of everybody."
Those type of attributes made Olley well-suited for her summer trip to Brazil, where she played four games over eight days against club and professional teams.
"It was really beautiful," Olley said. "I didn't know what to expect going in."
Olley got to see Copacabana Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue. She also got to see some of the venues from the 2016 Summer Olympics. Her mother, Jane, accompanied her on the trip.
Olley's high school Spanish didn't do her much good as Brazilians speak Portuguese.
"Just learning the culture and cuisine was really interesting," Olley said. "Our trip director was really good about sending us weekly emails with a little bit of Portuguese, so I know a little bit, but not nearly enough. My Spanish didn't help at all, but I loved it. It was a great experience, and to be able to share it with my mom was really special."
This article is written by Jon Nowacki from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.