2014 started a new year and a very unmotivated blogging Kayla. Between my short time at home, travel back to Finland and getting back into my routine, blogging wasn’t exactly the first thing on my list BUT better late than never right? I hope all of you rang in the New Year with friends and family! I’m proud to say that I have checked “Spend NYE in a different country” off my bucket list. After only spending one afternoon back in Finland and getting through my first morning practice of 2014, Hanna, our newest teammate Rose (an outside/right side from Venezuela that played at Arkansas last year…yes another SEC player in Finland) and myself headed to Provoo to ring in the new year with Hanna’s boyfriend and some other American basketball players playing here. I’m comparison to the last two NYE’s this has probably been the best. Good music, great American adult beverages and a group of individuals who just like to have fun.
Once the excitement of 2014 wore off, it was back to work. January commenced the two-month countdown until playoffs in March. Aside from the Suomi Cup Final, there were only five matches for the month and I planned to go undefeated. As I briefly mentioned, we had a new addition to our team: Roslandy (Rose) Acosta from Arkansas. She’s an extremely talented outside/right-side hitter originally from Venezuela who has Olympic experience and brought a breath of fresh, recharged, motivated air to the team and some MAJOR relief to me. It’s so nice to have another person to carry the set load during matches. Not only does it keep me alive – literally- it makes our offense a lot more dynamic and harder to defend. Our second match of 2014 took us all the way to Lapland aka Santa Clause land – but really it’s known as the “official home of Santa Clause” and is 5km south of the Arctic Circle.
The 8-hour drive followed by a final 2-hours on game day to compete against a team that hadn’t lost at home all season meant some business had to be handled. Besides playing WoVo to advance in the Suomi Cup series, we had lost to them in 5-sets at home during regular league play and were ready for revenge. From the first point you could see our team wasn’t messing around. Quite business woman-like, we followed and executed the game plan to a T, sweeping them at home in 3. Always a good way to kick off the second half of the season. Although I say our play was motivated by revenge, I also think the fact that we had a 10-hour drive back home could have contributed to our success, no one was trying to stay for four sets. The drive back was long, crazy, cabin fever-filled but we finally made it back home and in bed by 5:30 am. Long day with no sunshine.
Our next matter of business was to finally play the last match of the Cup Final, which had begun in November in a 5-set thrillerwin over OrPo. The finals would be against none other than Salo, who we hadn’t beaten all season. In comparison to previous matches, everyone seemed very confident going into the match. There were no “deer in headlight” looks; the mood was calm but intense. Really focused. The first set was a battle; we fell behind and had to grind back from being down late in the set to win 25-23. The second set was a surprising blow out, everything clicked on our side. Salo couldn’t compete with our intensity. In the last set you could see who wanted it more. As defending Cup champions and the underdog we were expected to crumble under Salo’s reputation, but to their surprise we had been executing the game plan too well. Even though Salo had pulled away in the middle of the third set we continued to push back, eventually leading us to win 25-19. In my entire volleyball career I’ve never won a Gold metal. A feeling of pride, accomplishment and thankfulness surged over me. It was in that moment our entire team knew we had everything we needed to make a statement in the post season and a great shot at winning the league championship.
The high from that match lasted for a few days and continues to be a source of motivation during tough days in the gym for all of us. The rest of our matches for the month weren’t nearly has emotional but important to take 3 points from each. HPK was our third league match of the month. One of their best hitters was out with a knee injury, Skender from LSU, and we made sure to take advantage of her absence. Although we didn’t play at the same level seen the previous week during the finals match, we got things done. HPK had been on a winning streak, beating the two top teams in our league. We ended the streak. A 2-day trip to Kourtane marked the end of January’s competition. It was an honor to play at their facility in the home of Finland’s Olympic Training Center. Something about seeing “Citius, Altius, Fortius” gets the blood pumping and brings a sense of national pride to the surface. They have a beautiful campus, hotel, dining hall and brand new facility, only the best for Olympic athletes. One thing I found unique about the campus was that it’s also home to youth training. Kids can attend school and train at the OTC, investing early on in their professional career. With that being said, the team we played was young but as displayed the first time we met, they have heart and are very competitive. I didn’t play much this weekend, I assume to rest my body for other matches, but the rest of the team got the job done. Can’t beat an undefeated weekend.
January’s record (including the Suomi Cup a Finals): 6-0. Only one month left in regular league play of my first professional season. Eyes on the prize.