When given the chance to not only visit a beautiful part of the United States but play in a highly competitive and challenging tournament for the sport you love, it’s hard to say no. Better yet to is to be invited by current teammates to come with them and do all of the above. Former Langdon Area Cardinal Rachel Hill, currently a sophomore at Lake Region State College and starting setter for the volleyball team, had the fortunate chance to do just that.
By Melissa Anderson
Two of Hill’s teammates Lake Region are originally from Puerto Rico and play in the Jeep Volleyball Championship every year. This year proved to be a challenge as their team for the tournament couldn’t find a setter, so Hill was asked to come play with them in Puerto Rico.
“Two days later I got the okay to go from my parents! Also, two of my other teammates came down to play with us too,” Hill said.
The Jeep Volleyball Championship is an annual tournament for a range of ages held in Puerto Rico and organized by Sports Alternative Puerto Rice. The Kali Beach team that Hill played on had several sponsors that assisted the team with expenses. Sponsors included Tony Performance, FBC International Corporation, Caribbean Tile Toa Baja, and Bimmer Solutions.
“They helped us pay for our jerseys. We didn’t have to try out or be recruited to play in this tournament,” Hill explained.
One of the biggest challenges that Hill faced for the tournament wasn’t weather or sport-related but language-related. Hill depended on her teammates that did speak English to explain to her what the rest of her teammates were saying or to convey messages through hand signals as she doesn’t speak Spanish.
“It was definitely not normal playing with girls that spoke Spanish. Everything that they said was in Spanish, and there was only a couple of them that spoke English, and they knew very few words,” Hill said. “Even the coach didn’t know English, so my two teammates that are from there had to translate for us the whole time.”
Despite the language barrier and only having two days of practice before the tournament started, the team did quite well. In total, the Kali Beach team with Hill as setter played a total of seven games together. One of Hill’s teammates unfortunately went down with a knee injury the first day of the tournament and wasn’t able to play the rest of the tournament.
“We came out as the #2 team in our pool, made the gold bracket in our division, the highest bracket you could make, but got beat out the first round of tournament play,” Hill shared.
The large tournament held at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, goes for several days. The first few days of the tournament, June 1-5, is when the younger age levels play and the latter part, June 6-9, was when the older divisions played, including Hill’s team.
“There were so many different age levels and both men’s and women’s teams in the tournament. Most of the teams were from Puerto Rico, but there were a few teams from the US there too,” Hill said. “The Puerto Rico Convention Center had over 30 volleyball courts in it. So, there was about 30 games going on all the time. I honestly don’t know how many teams were in the tournament.”
It wasn’t just about volleyball for Hill as she was able to view the U.S. territory for herself. Some of the destinations that were visited included four different beaches: Balneario de Carolina, Crash Boat beach, Playa Rosada, and Escambron beach. Hill and her other teammates from Lake Region not from Puerto Rico got to see Old San Juan, Punta Borinquen lighthouse ruins, El Pozo de Jacinto, and a few malls, of course!
“Also, one of my teammates lives in the mountains of Puerto Rico, so we got to go on a beautiful drive through the mountains of Puerto Rico, which gave us a beautiful view of the city, especially at night,” Hill shared.
The island of Puerto Rico is one of the islands of theCaribbean and is the island that Christopher Columbus famously mistook for the continent of Asia when he landed there in 1492. Today, the U.S. territory is still recovering from the hurricane that slammed into the island in September of 2017, destroying every aspect of its infrastructure – electricity, potable water supplies, transportation, and communication.
“There were a few parts of Puerto Rico that are still cleaning up after Hurricane Maria hit almost two years ago, but overall it is still such a beautiful place,” Hill said. “There are mountains everywhere, so it definitely gives a great view. The food there is also a lot healthier. They always have a combination of either rice, beans, or plantains with every meal. Most of the desserts that they have usually involve nutella and some sort of fruit.”
From the volleyball court to the warmth of the island, which typically is 80 to 90 degrees during the day, to the food Hill experienced- Hill enjoyed everything the island of Puerto Rico had to offer.