Chelsa Brooks' NCAA Journal
Senior Chelsa Brooks
"Volleyball brought us together, but our friendship will always be there" - Junior Rubena Sukaj
American University senior Chelsa Brooks documented the Eagles' trip to the 2007 NCAA Volleyball Tournament, discussing the announcement of their match up, the week leading to the start of the tourney and American's first-round match. AU made its seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this past fall and traveled to Durham, N.C. to face nationally-ranked Duke in the first round. The Eagles fell to the Blue Devils but put up solid effort, pushing the match to five games, for the best-ever Patriot League performance in the NCAA Tournament. Brooks is a three-time All-Patriot League honoree and will graduate from American with a degree in psychology.
On Sunday, Nov. 25 my teammates and I arrived early to set up the chairs around the big screen for the NCAA Tournament announcement show. Right around 8 p.m. our head coach, Barry Goldberg, and administrators gathered to hear our destination. Throughout the entire show my heart was beating through my chest. Each time a name filled one of the brackets next to its school logo, I scanned them feverishly searching for ours. After each commercial break we would brace for the next set of names. Ours did not show up almost until the end of the selection show. We took notice of our match-up and the location, which was much closer to home than in previous years. My teammate, Logan Striebel, and I stood up, screamed and high fived each other to celebrate our good draw.
The next day at practice we began to discuss offensive and defensive plans of attack. During practice we played back row three's and a lot of six on six to uphold a competitive and fun atmosphere. At the end of practice, Coach Goldberg gave us an itinerary and told us we would leave Wednesday afternoon when classes ended.
On Wednesday, Nov. 28 after early morning practice and lifting everyone headed to their classes, jittering with excitement. That evening we left American at 5 p.m. and arrived at our hotel in Durham around 10 p.m. In each of our rooms that night we all fought to get to sleep, thinking about the days to come.
The next morning we ate breakfast together and had an early evening practice. But before we headed to the gym, we went to eat lunch at Logan's house in Raleigh, N.C. Her family welcomed us into their home for the second time this season and provided a delicious and healthy meal. After we all had our fill, we sat around and talked about all the fun times we have had over the season. Old jokes resurfaced and hilarious incidents were reenacted. Then we all thanked the Striebel's, took a few pictures and left for practice.
The Eagles after lunch at the Striebel's
Upon our arrival at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, we observed the gym and our new surroundings. Soon we were comfortable and began to play hard and have an intense practice as if we were on our home court. After we screamed our last, "AU" and broke from our team huddle, we all scattered to hop on the bus and go out to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen.
After we got back to the hotel I had homework to do before going to bed. My assignment was to write a paper applying class concepts to a book that I read that had an adolescent target audience. Once I completed my paper I e-mailed it to my professor before class time and she responded with a "thank you" and "GO AU"! A good night's rest was well deserved after this long day and also in order to prepare for the peak of the trip the next day.
To our surprise, Friday finally rolled around. Lunch and pre-game practice flew by and before we knew it we were watching the Liberty and Cal match - the contest before American's. Elizabeth Maloney, our only senior from last year's team, drove all the way down to Durham from Toronto, Canada! This was one of the best surprises of the day!
Finally, the moment we had been preparing for since last spring, was here. All of our hard work, sweat, pain and hours spent on the court, track and in the weight room were coming into play. During the announcement of each team's players, I observed all of my loved ones in the crowd; my father, mother and younger (but taller) brother were beaming with pride and excitement as they cheered for our team. Once I made this observation, the crowd was pretty much out of my mind. All of the noise, distractions and jeers from the crowd were easily zoned out as my focus narrowed to my team and our side of the court.
The Eagles practice at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium the day
before their matchup with the Blue Devils
We got off to a pretty good start but fell short in the first game, 20-30. In the second game we stepped up a little bit more but we still couldn't push through the seal of the Duke block. After gathering ourselves in the locker room at the break we discussed a few changes to make. These proved to be effective as we won the third and fourth games, 30-28 and 31-29. In the end we lost after five hard-fought sets, 15-7. The match was intense and we had to make adjustments to execute our game plan at times, but overall we tried our hardest and left it all out on the court. After the last whistle we shook hands with the opposing team and did our last AU cheer for the season. In the locker room we all took about 10 minutes to mourn the end of our season and for some of us the end of a career. One of the biggest losses for me along with the ending of my college career is that within my team lie my best friends. I expressed to Rubena Sukaj that I was unsure what I was going to do from here because they were all my closest and most loved friends away from home; they are my family. She then told me that just because the season is over, and for me that my career is over, does not mean our friendships will cease. Rubena simply put it as, "Volleyball brought us together, but our friendship will always be here."