A STRANGE JOURNEY

IN MY WORDS: REBEKAH STRANGE 
By Rebekah Strange

Volleyball has always been one of my favorite sports to play and to watch. However, it was not the first sport I chose. As a kid, I was exposed to many different sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming and baseball. Both my parents and my brothers played sports, which influenced me to become an athlete. Growing up watching my brothers play their sports and watching them compete is something that I enjoyed being able to do.

The very first sport I ever participated in was soccer. I started playing soccer when I was four or five with my best friend Mallory. I would have to say that soccer was one of my favorite sports that I played when I was a kid. I loved being able to play with some of my closest friends. But most of all, my favorite part was getting snacks after the game. My all-time favorite snack were the mini Oreos with a Capri Sun. I could not resist the Oreos. To be honest, they are still my favorite cookie.

Along with playing soccer, I also participated in gymnastics. Yes, I used be able to do the splits, do a back handspring and do all those cool flips that gymnasts do, but unfortunately I started getting older and was no longer that flexible. However, once I started to get older, I began to lose interest in both sports. Soccer and gymnastics are very physical, and I was getting tired of being pushed to the ground, getting elbowed in the stomach, and I was just physically exhausted from participating in both sports. So my mom, through my church and our local youth sports organization, introduced me to volleyball. I stopped playing soccer and started my volleyball journey.

Gymnastics and soccer were not quite what I thought they were going to be. But, I found my love in volleyball. After going to a few youth volleyball clinics, I discovered club volleyball at 10, playing on a 12-year-old team. I actually started out playing setter, which is really hard. I have had great respect for the setters on any team I have played for. I played as six-rotation outside hitter for a while, but my high school team was amazing, with many girls taller than I was, so just as I started my freshman year of high school, I began focusing on defense and the libero position. I grew a few inches in high school and, funny thing, my senior year I played part of the season as a six rotation outside hitter. Little, but mighty, I scored the last point in the state championship match with a tip to the back corner over the outstretched arms of the defender.

Some of my closest friendships have been formed on or around the volleyball court. Even at VCU, I often see a former Circle City club volleyball teammate or a player from an Indianapolis-area high school across the net from me. I managed to make friendships outside of volleyball and have many special memories of weekend bonfires and long drives on the backcountry roads.

As my high school volleyball career was ending, I realized it was time for me to start preparing for the next chapter of my life. When I was looking at Division 1 colleges that were in need of my position, I was hoping to find a place that fit me the most. I was looking for a place that I could call home for the next four years and where I might have a chance to make an impact and play as a freshman.

I was being recruited by Division I schools in Indiana and a few colleges in the Midwest, but I wanted to go somewhere farther than the Midwest. The number one reason why I wanted to go out of state was that I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to meet new people, create new relationships and be able to experience new opportunities that it would provide for me. After visiting those schools, nothing really seemed to stand out. But then I heard of Virginia Commonwealth University.

I had just finished club practice when one of the office manager’s told me one the assistants at VCU, Chad Gatzlaff, was trying to get into contact with me. That night I emailed him and told him that I was interested in coming on a visit. One reason I wanted to go was that I had heard that Coach [Jody] Rogers had coached at the University of Indianapolis for a long time, and I heard great things about her from my teammates who were recruited by her as well.

Once I got to VCU for my visit, I fell in love with the campus. Most of the campuses I saw on my other visits were your typical college campus, but not VCU. It had an urban appeal like IUPUI, which is in Indianapolis. When the coaching staff took me on a tour of the campus, I was in awe of all of the art displays that were on many of the buildings. As we finished touring the campus, I got the opportunity to watch the team practice. Even though I only saw a few people from the team practice, I loved the style of coaching that I got to see. That evening, I got the opportunity to watch a VCU Men’s Basketball game. Even before the game started, the atmosphere in the Siegel Center was out of this world. After the game, my mom and I went back to the hotel to talk about how the day went and what I thought of the school, the team and the atmosphere. I said, “I absolutely want to go here. This is my home for the next four years.”

These past four years have been such a crazy, but fun, rollercoaster. From participating in SEAL Team Physical Training, to owning the longest winning streak in the nation, I do not regret my decision to come and play Division I volleyball at VCU.

Although there were moments in my career at VCU that I struggled with, I am happy I had the opportunity to push through those obstacles here. Dealing with classes and going to practice and lift every day were definitely a part of those difficulties. Nevertheless, one of the main reasons why I was able to push through those difficult times was because of the resources provided by the athletic department and the coaching staff. The amount of resources that the athletic department provides to its student-athletes is incredible. For example, they provide a tutoring center in the Siegel Center to help us when we are struggling with schoolwork. [Athletic Director] Ed McLaughlin, [Deputy AD] Jon Palumbo and many other staff members in the athletic department do whatever they can do to help you succeed in whatever you do at VCU. I have appreciated the amount of time and effort that the staff members and the coaches put in to make sure that my experience at VCU is the absolute best.

I cannot thank my coaching staff enough for the time and effort that they put in these past four years to help me become a better volleyball player. Whether it was watching extra film or getting extra reps on the court, they helped me to become a better volleyball player. Not only did they help me become a better volleyball player, but they also helped me to become a better person and teammate. I am better prepared for the future and whatever life throws at me because of my experiences at VCU. I would like to thank Coach Rogers, Coach [Tim] Doyle, Coach [Patrick] Maloney, Coach Gatzlaff and Coach [Tim] Kontos for always pushing me to do my best. I would not be where I am today without the help of those five coaches.

To my teammates, past and current, I appreciate everything that they did and everything that they do to help me get through these four years. They all helped me to understand what a good teammate is. They all helped me to compete to my fullest potential. Even through the tough times, I knew that I could count on each of them to lift me up. The experiences and the memories that we made will be something that I will always remember and keep close to my heart.

Last but not least, my mom. I would not be where I am today without her. I cannot even express how much I appreciate her and how much I look up to her. Her endless support and encouragement is what keeps me going every day.

As for my future, I plan to graduate in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in General Business.  Before reality sets in, I plan to play professional volleyball after my career is over at VCU.#

#LetsGoVCU

Rebekah Strange is a senior from Avon, Ind. She currently leads the Atlantic 10 Conference in digs per set (4.87) and has won three conference Defensive Player of the Week awards. She leads 27-2 VCU - in the midst of a 24-match win streak - into its final regular season home game of the 2017 season on Saturday, Nov. 11 against Davidson.