Zimmerman wins gold as AU athletes star in summer
Michael Gardner | 9/5/13 5:16pm
Photography courtesy of Arron Zimmerman
AU students are known for taking pride in representing their university abroad but three student-athletes did that and then some by representing the red, white and blue all over the globe during summer break, proving that sport truly is universal.
Kazan, Russia: 4998 miles from American University
Volleyball junior Monika Smidova, who had just been cleared from a knee injury that forced the Czech to sit out the entire 2012 season, played on her country’s team in the University Games, the world’s second largest sporting event. The event is similar to the Olympic games except it’s only for student-athletes under the age of 27 years old.
“Nothing feels better than wearing a national jersey with the flag on and singing a national anthem in front of 5,000 people,” Smidova said. “It is a matter of pride, responsibility and patriotism.”
While at the 27th Universiade, Smidova competed as a setter in six matches against Poland, the United States and host nation, among others. In her first match against Russia, Smidova notched 19 assists and three digs. The Czech Republic went 1-2 in its preliminary round including a 3-0 sweep against the United States. After defeating the Chinese in a five-set battle and Chile in the knockout rounds, the Czechs fell to Slovakia in straight sets as the team finished the two-week event with a 3-3 record.
Much like how the collegiate game has different styles, similar elements apply to the fast-pace, physical trend of international volleyball. Different nations take a unique approach to the game that is tailored to their players.
“The pace actually depends on every country and also on every setter that runs the offense,” Smidova said. “[We] played against China who preferred higher balls and slower pace and the other day we played Chile that loved fast and low balls. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to find a defense strategy against Russian team because their players were all at least 6-foot-5 and were hitting the ball over the blocks and played on a completely different level.”
During her time in Kazan, Smidova had the rare opportunity to see Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as many other dignitaries representing the host nation. Yekaterina Gamova, a volleyball player who anchored the Russian national team to two World Championships and back-to-back silver medals at the Sydney and Athens Olympics, was also present.
Overall, Smidova was engulfed with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of participating in an Olympic-like event put on by a city.
“The University village was a completely new built object to which we could enter only through X-rays and was guarded by soldiers,” she added. “Accommodations reminded me of better university dormitories.”
“All sports stadiums also appeared as modified or newly built. The Russians really showed off because the whole city of Kazan was decorated with banners and flowers. It seemed that the whole city lived the Universiade with us for the two weeks.”
However, it was just another international experience for Smidova, who competed in several international youth tournaments for her country. Regardless of the volleyball occasion, though, she always enjoys the cultural aspects.
“You live with international student-athletes in the same village, eat at the same restaurant and play sports just for fun so you actually get to know so many different nationalities, cultures and opinions that you will never forget,” she added.
Tel Aviv, Israel: 5899 miles from American University
Far from the nation’s capital, but further southeast than Smidova, women’s basketball junior Arron Zimmerman was competing for another medal on the other side of the world; going for gold at the annual Maccabi Games.
The third largest sporting event in the world dubbed the “Jewish Olympics”, the Maccabi Games is where Jewish youth-athletes compete and share their heritage with others in Israel. Zimmerman, who made her second consecutive trip to the games, contributed to Team USA as they captured another gold medal.
“Winning the gold medal and celebrating with my teammates in the locker-room, you just see it in a whole different light,” Zimmerman said. “That was my favorite part of the trip, having new friends I’m going to stay close to forever. Not only do we have the bond that we love basketball, but we’re all Jewish and want to play overseas in Israel once we graduate.”
Living in Israel for three weeks, Zimmerman’s first was spent in training camps with her teammates who play for several Patriot League and Ivy League schools. Week two was comprised of sightseeing as Zimmerman and Team USA toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Western Wall and swam in the Dead Sea.
Then the third week was back to the hardwood: The reason why they were there.
The United States played against Australia, Canada and Israel before facing the Israelis again in the gold medal game. With the exception of an overtime game versus Israel in the group stage, Zimmerman said the U.S. held a sizable advantage over the other competitors.
According to the forward, the trip was made better by the camaraderie forged with her teammates, a group that only had three weeks to gel and practice for a potential gold medal run.
Her experiences not only strengthened her as a human being, but also as a basketball player as she adjusts to a new AU head coach and another season in November.
“I think I definitely learned how to communicate better,” Zimmerman said. “I was playing with people I had never played with so you have to communicate better than with the team you play with everyday. Also leadership, I think we kind of led in our own way as a team this time in Israel, so I think I can bring and I think I brought a little more physicality back with me.”
Indianapolis, Indiana: 583 miles from American University
Ti’Asia McGeorge, a women’s basketball senior guard, wasn’t that far away from Bender Arena, but the cultural experience of a lifetime was just as comparable to her fellow classmates. Although it doesn’t necessarily apply on the field of play, the Public Communication’s major did go through something that may help her in the future.
McGeorge was selected to represent AU at the annual Career in Sports Forum hosted by the NCAA and was one of 300 student-athletes to participate.
According to the NCAA, the Career in Sports Forum brings career leaders together to discuss their professional career paths and to enlighten student-athletes on career choices and future decisions they will need to consider. To McGeorge, it seemed like the perfect place for her.
“It means a great deal,” she said. “To know that [former AU women’s basketball coach Matt Corkery and American Associate Athletic Director Athena Argyropoulos] trusted me to represent the university and our athletic program is a compliment to who I am, not only as a player, but as a person.”
At the forum, McGeorge and the other student-athletes listened to motivational speeches by NCAA President Mark Emmert and USA Track and Field athlete Ann Gaffagan. McGeorge listened to Gaffagan speak about Gaffagan’s race in the 2004 Olympic trials where she felt she couldn’t run any longer but persevered and won the race. According to McGeorge, her story was inspirational, genuine and an accurate account of what as athletes go through on their playing fields.
However, that doesn’t even mention her favorite part of the event.
“One of my favorite quotes that I took is ‘Something you want is not going to happen unless you visualize it’,” McGeorge added. “It’s self-explanatory but we often become blinded by the thought of what we have to go through in order to get what we want, but if we just envision the end result the obstacles we face will be so minimal compared to what we receive.”
Each day there were varieties of activities to partake in as the student-athletes were sorted into eight different teams.
According to McGeorge, the groups first incorporated a personal element as the athletes compared and looked over resumes, dissected character traits and how to work with those of differing personalities. After that was the business part of the forum as the discussion turned into the different career opportunities in intercollegiate athletics and touched on the importance of knowing one’s personal values and understanding the importance of networking.
The senior not only felt truly blessed with the opportunity to connect with people who share a common goal of wanting to work in sports, but she learned valuable life lessons.
“Basically, knowing that in order to be successful in life we must be willing to go through hardships and do whatever it takes to achieve the outcomes we want,” McGeorge said. “So what word would that be? Perseverance? Persistency? Determination”