When the East Tennessee State volleyball team opens preseason practice today, it will have an international flair it didn’t possess when it last played.
Bucs’ coach Lindsey Devine spent part of her summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. national team that earned a silver medal at the Girls Youth World Championships in Thailand.
In addition, ETSU players Megan Devine, Meredith Hardy and Jessica Schafer played in the European Global Challenge, a prestigious international tournament in Croatia.
“Oh my gosh, it was so rewarding on so many aspects,” Lindsey Devine said. “As far as the level of play, being able to represent the USA, working with the coaching staff and that type of athletes and being on the world stage. I don’t think that kind of opportunity comes around that often, so I was very fortunate.”
The United States had never earned a medal in the Girls Youth World Championships, and the team dropped its first match to Slovenia.
The next match was against world power Brazil, and the Americans won in three sets.
“I think the world was shocked,” said Devine, who was assisting former Ohio State coach Jim Stone. “Nobody thought that would happen. They’re the Brazilians ... they’re great in volleyball. I don’t think many people thought we could compete.”
The victories kept piling up after that. Wins over the Dominican Republic and Algeria put the team in the medal round. The U.S. team then beat Taiwan and Poland, setting up a rematch with Brazil in the semifinals.
This time, an American victory wouldn’t be a shock, and that’s exactly what happened -- in five sets this time.
A straight-set loss to China in the gold-medal game didn’t quell Devine’s excitement.
“You don’t look a that loss as a huge disappointment,” said Devine, whose ETSU team won the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference championship before losing to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. “Nobody expected the USA to even be in that final match. Walking away with a silver medal is a pretty phenomenal accomplishment.
“These other teams had been together two, three years. We’d been together two weeks. It’s bigger than people understand. Turkey won it two years ago and the Turkey government gave all of their players cars. It’s life to them.”
It was Devine’s second time as an assistant under Stone. They worked together last summer at the Global Challenge.
“I kind of pride myself on working hard and doing what I can to help out USA Volleyball,” she said.
Devine says her experience with the national team can only benefit her ETSU squad.
“We follow the USA philosophy that the head coach of the national team brings down the pipeline as far as how they train their players,” she said. “I really believe in that model. We use the same drills in practice that the U.S. National Team does. I feel having a system in place has definitely led to our success.
“Being around such great coaches has opened up my mind. It really provides a great teaching tool that I can offer our athletes.”
Meanwhile, Megan Devine, the reigning A-Sun player of the year, was on the all-tournament team at the Global Challenge. Her coach, and mother, says the international experience will help all three ETSU players who went overseas.
“The experience both on and off the court, the high level of play, kind of working outside their comfort zone, having to listen to different coaching instruction, will really further develop them as a person and player,” Lindsey Devine said.
The Bucs open the season Aug. 30 against UNC-Greensboro at Winston-Salem, N.C. Their first home game is Sept. 3 when former and future Southern Conference foe Furman comes to town.